The weather geek in me has been watching stories and forecasts with interest this year to find informational bits of information to share here in my attempt to help growers plan ahead.
While accurate crystal balls may be in as short supply as water in California, the accuracy of one private weather forecasting company is fairly impressive.
Earlier this year we ran a story where I interviewed WeatherBell Chief Meteorologist Joe D’Aleo on his thoughts of the predicted El Niño. What he told me during the interview, coupled with what I’ve seen from their forecasts over the past few months and what has actually happened, leads me to believe in a greater likelihood of California rain sooner than later.
For instance, the latest WeatherBell agricultural page has a couple of noteworthy prognostications along with its maps that show virtually no available soil moisture in much of California.
While it’s probably not wise to mortgage the farm in Las Vegas on anyone’s long-range forecast, I’ve personally witnessed some on-target regional forecasts that make these forecasts worth watching.
D’Aleo told me earlier this year that the El Niño conditions related to the warming sea surface temperatures we were seeing last spring suggested a greater likelihood of some eastern Pacific hurricanes impacting the Baja and possibly even coming up the Gulf of California.
Several major hurricanes formed off the west coast of Mexico this year. Several of those pumped moisture into southern California and Arizona. One such storm – Hurricane Odile – spun its eye wall over Cabo San Lucas on the southern tip of Baja California Sur and remained over land on its northward trek until it fell apart and became a tropical depression before hitting southern Arizona with heavy rain.
Had Odile tracked northward just a few miles to the east and remained over the warm waters in the Gulf of California one can only speculate how much more severe landfall would have been on the mainland United States.
Also noteworthy in WeatherBell’s latest outlook is the likelihood of some early season rain in the southern San Joaquin Valley and much of southern California through the end of October. This falls in line with what D’Aleo told me in early June and is now being discussed by the National Weather Service.
Another concern forecasters are talking about is the potential for a catastrophic freeze that could impact Florida’s citrus industry sometime this winter.
While El Niño tends to protect California citrus regions from freezing conditions – September sea surface temperature anomaly readings are between one and two degrees above normal along the California coast and eastern Pacific – Florida and Texas are at greater risk of crop-damaging freezes, according to WeatherBell.
The citrus industry forecast draws connections between previous El Niño events and major Florida freezes over the past 180 years.
Whether we get the rain and snow necessary to fill California reservoirs and help the state recover from an epic drought remains to be seen. Given what I’ve seen so far from WeatherBell forecasts I’m inclined to believe that early season rains could impact late-harvest cotton in California.
Hopefully the rain we do see will be tempered to allow the soil to absorb the moisture without damaging run-off, and that the snow levels will be low enough to build California’s water savings account to help fill reservoirs next spring and summer.