With El Niño winter storms routinely converging on the Plains this winter, farmers and ranchers are eagerly waiting for springtime weather.

The Climate Prediction Center recently released its forecast for March through May 2019, which is highlighted by an El Niño status change.

“The (previous) El Niño ‘Watch’ is now an Advisory, as weak El Niño conditions have a 55 percent chance (instead of the previous 80 percent chance) of continuing through this spring,” said Matthew Rosencrans, head of Forecast Operations for Climate Prediction Center, College Park, Md.

Associated with the jet stream shifting further south into southern California and moving eastward to the central Plains, El Niño increased winter precipitation in its path.

“The jet stream will now shift northward through March, as the seasons progress,” Rosencrans said. “While there’s a 55 percent chance that El Niño stays on through March-April-May, however, by June-July-August, the most likely status will be neutral.”

Meanwhile, the cold spell is forecast to continue into March.

“March will likely delay the ‘feel of spring’ with temperatures expected to be below normal on average, although odds favor closer to normal or possibly above normal temperatures into April and May,” observed Michael Moritz, Warning Coordination meteorologist at the NWS in Hastings, Neb.

Regarding precipitation: “Though likely highly variable from one location to another, precipitation is expected near normal in March, but does favor slightly above normal precipitation into April and May, more so across Kansas and Nebraska than the northern Plains,” said Moritz, noting the atmosphere has responded to weak El Niño conditions in the central Pacific Ocean. “So, it’s not uncommon to have periods of wet weather as the winter rounds its way into spring.”

Much of the region has seen a wet fall and winter, both in terms of snow and rain.

“Frost depths are about average, but snow cover is a bit more widespread than normal,” Moritz said. “It’s likely it will take time for wet conditions to dry, and the colder late winter temperatures to warm, both of which could delay spring field work.

“Crop producers may have to be patient in terms of starting spring field, but should be ready to hit the ground running, once weather conditions allow. Ranchers should be prepared for the colder than normal temperatures and potentially wet conditions throughout the spring calving season.”

However, he added grass conditions should be favorable for much of the central Plains once it warms up, given the run of wet weather the past several months.

A Nebraska climatologist agrees, a wet spring start appears in store for the cornhusker state.

“With El Niño-like conditions expected through this spring, we should continue to see the southern jet contribute to above normal precipitation south of the I-80 corridor (western corn belt: Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas,) as well as Missouri, Iowa, southern Minnesota into the mid-Atlantic region,” said Allen Dutcher, associate state climatologist for the Nebraska State Climate Office in Lincoln, Neb.

Dutcher forecasts this trend will continue through much of March as the northern jet has become a bigger player during the second half of the winter.

“In fact, some of the strength came at the same time a small pocket of upwelling cold anomalies made it to the surface in the extreme eastern Equatorial Pacific,” Dutcher said. “This area is beginning to show signs of fatigue and the warm subsurface heat just to the west of it is coming to the surface. This should reinvigorate the southern jet like we saw during early winter, and I would not be surprised to see a weakened northern jet develop, creating a split flow pattern. If this occurs, then drier than normal conditions are likely over the next three months across the northern Rockies, western Dakotas and northern Minnesota. Heavy moisture would be favored for the southern Plains and southern Rocky mountains.”

Bottom line, Dutcher believes the challenge continues for cattle folks, due to frequent activity. “With a more southern stream component, storms will hold more moisture and precipitation events will be much wetter, which is a nasty ingredient to have when calving,” Dutcher said. “If the northern stream remains active, planting delays could result. But if the southern stream strengthens, I see enough breaks between events that planting could still be done in a timely fashion.”

A Kansas meteorologist expects the sunflower state to begin its spring on the cold side.

“There’s decent confidence that much of Kansas will remain below average (colder) into mid-March. However, into April and May there’s little confidence to support either a warmer or colder than average forecast (meaning ‘equal chances),’” said Chad Omitt, Warning Coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service, Topeka, Kan.

“In addition, many other atmospheric phenomena can dominate the short-term ‘weather’ like Madden Julian Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation/Arctic Oscillation,” Omitt observed. “Many actors can influence our weather from week to week that are difficult to forecast beyond 14 days or so.”

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Amy Hadachek can be reached at amy.hadachek@midwestmessenger.com.