January 16, 1997 in Nation/World

Forecaster Says El Nino Coming Back Warmer, Drier Weather Pattern Building In Pacific, Says Meteorologist

Grayden Jones Staff writer

Cold ears and broken tree limbs soon may be replaced by suntans and brown lawns as another El Nino weather pattern builds in the Pacific Ocean, a national weather forecaster predicted Wednesday in Spokane.

“I think we’re headed toward an El Nino,” meteorologist Art Douglas said at the Pacific Northwest Farm Forum and Ag Expo.

“Precipitation will go back to normal, or below, as you head into a dry summer and fall.”

Douglas’ forecast may be welcome relief to thousands in the Inland Northwest who have endured an ice storm, power outages, heavy snow and floods in recent weeks.

But it’s troubling news to farmers, who need moisture to grow spring-planted crops such as peas and lentils, and to utilities and others who count on plentiful mountain snowpacks to fill reservoirs and waterways each spring.

However, Douglas suggested it is too early to know the strength of El Nino and it might be April before spring rains diminish.

Douglas, who chairs the atmospheric science department at Creighton University in Omaha, has shown remarkable accuracy forecasting long-range weather patterns. He correctly predicted the repeated El Nino pattern of the early 1990s, and at last year’s Ag Expo, he told participants to expect a change to rain, snow and cold weather in 1996.

Douglas watches sea surface temperatures for signs of change.

After a wet-and-cold season, sea surface temperatures have begun to rise off the coasts of South America and southern India, while cold water masses in the central Pacific.

These conditions, Douglas said, often precede El Nino - named for the Christ child’s appearance in December. An El Nino typically will cause a failure in the India monsoons, drought in wheat-rich Australia and divert warm, moist jet streams away from the Pacific Northwest for six months to a year.

“I don’t think this will be a strong El Nino,” Douglas said. “It may be a trial run, building up to a full-scale El Nino in the next year.”

Douglas likened the El Nino to those that appeared for short duration in 1951, ‘63, ‘65, ‘69, ‘72 and ‘82.

Douglas is reluctant to predict more exact weather conditions for the Inland Northwest. He ventured that the current high-pressure ridge that’s frozen the Inland Northwest likely will continue for a couple of weeks.

Beyond that, he would only say that temperatures in the region after March will be higher than normal and precipitation will be below average.

Farm Forum continues today at 9 a.m. in the Ag Trade Center Theater with Jay Penick, president of the Northwest Farm Credit Services and others. The Ag Expo trade show, which drew nearly 2,000 people Tuesday, runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Ray Goodner, portfolio manager for IDS Selective Global Bond Funds, speaks at noon at the Ridpath Hotel at the annual Agri Business Luncheon.

, DataTimes

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