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Farm forecaster predicts a cool Northwest spring

Wed., Feb. 3, 2010

Drier summer to follow, professor tells Ag Expo

The weather forecaster many regional farmers rely upon predicted that spring would be cool and accompanied by modest rains and perhaps a bit of snow.

Summer should be warmer and drier than normal, said Art Douglas, a respected forecaster known simply as “The Weatherman.”

The professor emeritus at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., brought his charts and maps to the Pacific Northwest Farm Forum and Spokane Ag Expo on Tuesday morning and delivered a dose of welcome news: All in all, the weather will be rather normal.

The dry summer won’t resemble the recent droughts that left forests and fields crackling dry. The mild outlook should help wheat farmers harvest a decent crop – especially since the region is not expected to experience another blast of arctic air that would damage the winter wheat seedlings beginning to emerge from winter dormancy.

Although wheat farming has absorbed a number of hits during the past decade, it remains among Washington’s biggest industries. Farmers harvest 135 million bushels each summer, and during the best years the crop can fetch more than $800 million.

So Douglas’ forecast matters. He has been helping farmers in Eastern Washington decide what and when to plant for more than 30 years.

Douglas admitted that the winter forecast he made last year missed the cold air that socked much of the West. The cause of such cold air, he said, may have been a large volcanic eruption last year in Kamchatka, Russia, that spewed ash into the stratosphere at 70,000 feet above sea level.

As the ash spread, it likely forced cold air down.

More importantly, he said, the current El Niño – a massive warm inshore current now positioned in the Central Pacific – resulted in the warm and rainy January.

The El Niño, he said, will give way this year and set the stage for another La Niña for the winter of 2010-’11, which typically means colder temperatures and more snow. It was a La Niña – marked by cooler Pacific Ocean temperatures – that helped deliver the super snows of the past two Spokane winters. He said the La Niña would be relatively weak and should not deliver a severe winter to the Pacific Northwest.

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