Wednesday, July 29, 2009

El Nino May Ease Worst Texas Drought, Cut Florida Storm Risk

An extensive piece on the agricultural impacts of El Nino, from Bloomberg:
The return of an El Nino climate pattern to the Pacific Ocean may relieve the worst Texas drought in 90 years and may reduce the threat of hurricanes ravaging orange groves in Florida.

El Nino, characterized by warming waters in the Pacific, “could bring relief” in the fall and winter to Texas, where farms are suffering from the lack of rain, the National Weather Service said July 16. The El Nino will last through the Northern Hemisphere winter and into 2010, presaging winter storms in the Southwest and a reduction in Atlantic hurricanes, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said July 9.

The threat of weather damage to U.S. crops helped send cotton to a 10-month high on July 21 on ICE Futures U.S. in New York, while orange-juice prices have surged 39 percent this year. Texas, which has lost $3.6 billion from the current drought, is the nation’s biggest cotton-growing state. Florida is the world’s largest grower of oranges after Brazil.

El Nino “would be a good thing for Texas,” said Drew Lerner, the president of forecaster World Weather Inc. in Overland Park, Kansas. “It would assure planting would occur more normally. There are less hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin in an El Nino year.”

Fewer storms also reduce the threat of damage to oil and natural-gas rigs scattered throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Crude- oil futures jumped 40 percent in 2005, touching a record high after Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf....

...One of the first indicators of how El Nino conditions will affect the U.S. will be hurricane activity in the Atlantic next month, said Mike Palmerino, a senior agricultural meteorologist for Minneapolis-based DTN Meteorlogix LLC. The hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.

Tropical storms gather pace in the Atlantic Ocean in August and peak around Sept. 10, said Chuck Caracozza, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Miami.

“If the tropical-storm-and-hurricane season is less active than normal, that will tell us this El Nino has the ability to impact weather patterns” later in the year, Palmerino said.

Citrus Crops

Florida’s orange production in the 2006-2007 season fell to the lowest since the 1989-1990 crop year after hurricanes ripped through groves in 2004 and 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Florida citrus growers, and really anyone tied to agriculture, are obsessive weather watchers,” Andrew Meadows, a spokesman for grower group Florida Citrus Mutual in Lakeland, said in an e-mail. “I’m sure they are following the El Nino patterns. If the forecast is fewer hurricanes in the Atlantic, then that’s terrific news and one less risk growers have to worry as much about.”

Palmerino, the DTN Meteorlogix forecaster, said a strong El Nino also may bring more rain to help ease a drought in California, the largest agricultural state, which produces everything from milk and beef to lettuce and strawberries. Winters also tend to be milder than normal in the northern U.S. and southern Canada during El Nino conditions, he said....MORE

The last paragraph on California is iffy. We haven't had an El Nino since the Pacific Decadal Oscillation went into it's cool phase in September 2007 so all of the satellite and other high tech data was gathered during the 31 year PDO warm phase, entered in July 1976. We know about ENSO cold/PDO warm but you have to go back to 1947 for the start of last PDO cool phase, i.e. pre-satellite.

There is some reason to suspect that California and the southwest will have a weather pattern different from what our short term memories consider a typical El Nino.