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Weather expert predicts hot, dry summer due to El Nino

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 7, 2017, 9:52 p.m.

Chong O, of Sherman Oaks, takes advantage of clearing skies to walk through the morning mist at Lake Balboa Park in Lake Balboa, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. (Michael Owen Baker / AP)
Chong O, of Sherman Oaks, takes advantage of clearing skies to walk through the morning mist at Lake Balboa Park in Lake Balboa, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. (Michael Owen Baker / AP)

A weather expert who has handed down predictions at the Spokane Ag Expo for three decades says the Inland Northwest can expect a summer that’s hotter and drier than normal.

An emerging El Nino will warm things up and dry them out in coming months, a meteorology expert told farmers Tuesday in Spokane.

Art Douglas, an emeritus professor of meteorology at Creighton University, was the keynote speaker at the opening session of the 40th annual Spokane Ag Expo at the Convention Center. The expo, in conjunction with the annual Pacific Northwest Farm Forum, runs through Thursday.

Douglas told farmers and agriculture industry workers that when temperatures warm, then cool and now warm again in the tropical Pacific, it has a strong effect on current weather and the weather expected when spring arrives and turns to summer harvest.

“Storms are going to have a much harder time getting into the Northwest,” said Douglas, who taught weather at Creighton University and now is a consultant.

An El Nino warming in the tropics is emerging along the coast of Peru and is expected to cause drier and warmer weather starting in March, Douglas said.

An El Nino warming of the tropics from 2014 to early 2016 led to a major drought along the West Coast in 2015 and 2016. It also sent warmer water into the eastern Pacific as far north as Alaska, which has been an ingredient in storm formation since October.

The La Nina cooling of the tropics that began last fall energized the storm track over California, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho and Washington since October. Those storms were fueled in part by the large area of warmer water off the coast that was the remnant of the previous El Nino, Douglas said.

El Nino takes its name from the development of warmer water along the coast of Peru around Christmas and the celebration of “the little boy.”

As for crop production, Douglas said Pacific Northwest grain crops should be in good shape with ample soil moisture available and some spring storms to help keep the ground moist.

A hot and dry summer is good for harvesting mature grain crops but also could cause more difficult growing conditions looking ahead to planting winter wheat next fall.

In contrast, the grain belt of the central U.S. should see lots of spring rain and probably violent storms, Douglas said. Crops there should be bountiful as the coming storms make up for a moisture deficit, he said.

Elsewhere around the world, Australia and the Black Sea growing areas have been dry and crops may suffer. China and northern India stand good chances for bountiful crops, he said, adding that he sees a mixed bag for South America.