SPOKANE — The Weatherman, who has been predicting weather for area farmers for three decades, dropped some bad news Tuesday from his virtual forecast: It's gonna be a tough year to grow grain and dry conditions could lead to another summer of fires.
Art Douglas, a professor emeritus from Creighton University, has been a regular fixture at the Spokane Ag Expo and Farm Forum, which is currently being held online for the first time because of the coronavirus pandemic. The event started in in 1978.
Douglas said the world is currently caught in La Nina-type conditions marked by cold water along the equator and warm water off the coast of Alaska. The corresponding weather patterns are drenching Southeast Asia and Australia while much of the rest of the world is experiencing drought.
"The newest models are showing La Nina is actually going to strengthen again in the summer going into the fall," Douglas said in his forecast on YouTube. "That's going to have a lot of repercussions in terms of world weather and crop conditions in the United States."
For the short term, area farmers can expect current colder temperatures to continue into March before May brings normal, to slightly above-normal, warmth, he said. However, farmers should not expect to see much rain.
"Anytime we get into a rebounding La Nina situation, it's really dangerous for the United States because it favors stronger drought development," he said.
Douglas said he expects that a high-pressure ridge will remain in the mid-section of the Pacific Ocean, which is keeping a trough in Canada. As a result, any storm systems coming off the Pacific Coast will likely be pulled too far north.
As for precipitation, "it's not a very encouraging forecast for the Pacific Northwest. It's going to be relatively dry in March and April," Douglas said. "So, not a particularly good forecast for wheat in the Pacific Northwest."
At the same time, the trough, which recently sent record cold temperatures all the way to Mexico, could send more artic blasts through the Midwest as the winter proceeds into spring, he said.
But those storms will mostly bypass local farmers, he said.
"Because of that trough in western Canada, we should see slightly cooler than normal temperatures, but primarily west of the Cascades," Douglas said. "The rest of the region should have near-normal temperatures to slightly above normal in southern Oregon into Idaho."
The outlook for the summer only gets worse, he said.
"The dryness extends all the way down through the Rockies, into the Plains and is trying to push eastward into the Corn Belt," he said. "So, not an encouraging map for grain production in the United States as we go forward."
As the spring gives way to summer, many of the drought problems will persist, especially in the corn and soybean growing regions of the Midwest, he said.
"The idea of maybe some late summer rains into September that might kind of save this crop is not likely, based in this forecast," Douglas said. He described a "super bummer with a dry August all he way from Texas border all the way up to the Canadian border and east into Illinois."
Those dry conditions in Eastern Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana could cause other problems not related to the wheat crop, he said.
"It's going to be very hot and dry, especially in the Rockies down to the Southwest," Douglas said. "So, we are looking at a situation with a lot of fires as we go into next summer."
The same weather patterns are currently causing drought-type conditions in wheat growing regions in the Black Sea, Turkey and South America. Those troubles have pushed the price of wheat higher over the past three months.
"That's what La Nina does," Douglas said. "It concentrates moisture towards Southeast Asia but creates drought for a large portion of the world."