Omaha (DTN) – The prospect of the Pacific Ocean entering an El Nino phase during this coming summer has garnered much attention in the past few weeks. El Nino describes the state of affairs when equator-region Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures reach sustained levels of one degree or more Celsius (two degrees Fahrenheit) above average, and are accompanied by a barometer feature called the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) posting which has a consistent value of -8.0 or lower.
El Nino typically develops during the November-December time frame. But recent Pacific Ocean trends suggest that an El Nino could form by as early as mid-July. "There is a monster plume of warm sub-surface (Pacific) water moving eastward over the past several weeks," said South Dakota state climatologist Dennis Todey. "This plume is being closely watched to see if that's the kicker to get us into El Nino this summer."
El Nino prospects are being closely watched because several research projects have concluded that, in the U.S., growing seasons featuring El Nino at least favor trendline corn yields. "El Nino summers are generally 'non-bad' growing years," said Todey. In his view, there is a sixty percent chance that El Nino will start "soon enough" to have an impact this growing season. "I am leaning toward a 60/40 probability of a little cooler temperature pattern across the Corn Belt," he said. "Also, I'm leaning to precipitation being non-dry, with maybe near average to slightly above average precipitation."
Such a scenario is favorable for corn production. "If it (El Nino) does happen by July, it would be milder for temperatures and pollination," Todey said.
The U.S. Climate Prediction Center's Pacific Ocean analysis agrees with Todey's assessment. The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) issued an El Nino Watch for the Pacific in early March, calling for a possible El Nino "...during the summer or fall."
In the event of El Nino, DTN analyst Todd Hultman looks for prices during the summer to trend lower. "If El Nino does develop in July...2014 will likely be another favorable year for corn and soybean production, bearish to prices," Hultman said.
However, talk about El Nino development is for a time period that is several months out. Such discussion, to DTN senior ag meteorologist Mike Palmerino, is quite speculative.
"I think it's irrelevant (El Nino) to be quite honest in terms of the growing season in the U.S. this summer. I don't think it's much of a factor whether it develops or not," Palmerino said. "Most of the calls for development are strictly model calls; they are not made in the reality of the situation right now."
To Palmerino, the big driver of U.S. crop weather fortunes is still what does or does not happen in the higher latitudes of North America during the growing season of 2014.
"I think it's going to boil down to--the character of the patterns in the U.S. are going to be dictated by how much blocking's (high pressure) going on in the northern latitudes--how cold Canada stays--and--that's really what we're going to be watching," Palmerino said.
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