‘Adequate’ spring rain, hotter summer ahead

Pacific Northwest farmers will see “adequate” rain this spring before temperatures go up for the summer.

“Adequate moisture, evenly spaced, that ought to keep you going,” Art Douglas, professor emeritus at Creighton University, told the Capital Press. “Not a great growing season but not a disaster.”

Douglas offered his annual weather forecast Feb. 5 at the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum. He has spoken at the event since 1989.

El Nino, the warm phase of temperature fluctuations in the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central equatorial Pacific Ocean, tends to mean dry weather in the Pacific Northwest, but Douglas doesn’t believe this one will turn out that way.

“I don’t see an indication of any kind of severe drought this spring,” he said. “You’re going to get some moisture in here to push along, and hopefully things will work out.”

Douglas expects a cold February followed by a warmer March through May.

“I think February will end up being your coldest month of the winter, and then probably by March it will be back to above normal,” Douglas said.

Moisture levels west of the Cascade Range, he said, will be below 80 percent of normal. East of the Cascades, Eastern Washington will be 80 to 90 percent of normal, he said.

In southeast Oregon, moisture levels may be closer to normal, as rain and snow from California creep into the area, he said.

Douglas said conditions could be cooler and wetter in May in the western U.S. But come July and August, conditions will definitely be warmer than normal, he said.

The weather will be “drier in the north, but maybe some of that monsoon moisture (will be) getting into extreme southeast Oregon and southern Idaho,” he said.

Asked about fire risk, Douglas replied, “My guess is, it’s not going to be good for you. Maybe not as bad as last year, but given the average above normal temperatures … I think this fire season will just get progressively worse.”

Douglas said 2019 is most likely to be comparable to years such as 1986, 1989, 1999, 2001, 2014 and 2017.

But he said it’s tricky to make predictions as sea surface temperature patterns are typical of El Nino, but upper levels of the atmosphere are poorly tied to the ocean, which is not typical of winter weather patterns.

“Normally the upper level heights are governed by what the sea surface temperatures are forcing on them, and that’s not happening,” Douglas said. “It’s probably an indication that we’re getting ready for a pretty major circulation change, not only in the atmosphere, but also in the ocean. These two are fighting each other. They’re duking it out, and I really don’t know which one is going to win.”

Forecasts for the next few months will be unstable as the ocean and atmosphere try to become better linked, he said.

Sea surface temperature patterns are not likely to change over the next six months, he said.

Elsewhere, a dry spring in the Corn Belt will need to be closely watched, he said. It will allow Midwest farmers to plant early, but dry conditions are likely to persist through the summer.

“I think we kind of have a fingernail-biting situation in the spring and summer,” he said. “Dryness is going to start being talked about more and more in the Midwest, and there’s going to be more and more concern for the crop.

“Is this thing going to get out of control and be a major drought? I personally don’t know what it’s going to do,” he said.