After several growing seasons of drought conditions and an extremely wet spring, many are wondering what Mother Nature is cooking up for this summer.
The general outlook is good, says John Grymes, senior meteorologist at the Southern Regional Climate Center in Baton Rouge, La. There are two reasons for Grymes' optimism.
“One, we've gotten sufficient, if not too much, moisture recently. We won't be dealing with the soil/water deficit that much of the Delta has had the last couple of summers,” he notes. “That's definitely a positive as we'll be okay moisture-wise at least through early summer.”
Second, the outlook for the next several months is for typical, mild summer weather. “The wet we're currently experiencing will settle down. We've had two significant fronts roll through the Delta recently, but that shouldn't continue.”
The consensus among meteorologists is that summer tropical storm counts will be high. That has some growers worried. Without more information, however, Grymes isn't terribly concerned.
“(Tropical storm count numbers) don't tell us how many storms will get into the Gulf Coast, how many will reach inland and how many will be strong enough to generate widespread rainfall. I listen to that (storm count) information with interest but don't see how it really provides us any real insight. Tropical storms are always the summer wildcard.
“No one can forecast which storms will amount to anything with any real certainty. Anyone out there saying, ‘Look for a bad tropical storm in August’ is just trying to get his name in the paper. We don't have the degree of skill to predict such things.”
In fact, when meteorologists speak of above-normal storm counts, the first inclination is to believe that more storms equal more possibility for land being deluged. That doesn't equate in this circumstance, says Grymes.
“There isn't really a good relationship there. For example, the last six years have probably been the busiest six consecutive years ever in our hurricane history. But for the Delta — other than Hurricane Alison — the last six years have been benign.”
So the wet weather the Delta has been experiencing is an early blip and things will calm?
“Yes. I wouldn't look for a string of the 3-inch to 5-inch rain events that we've been having over the last couple of months,” says Grymes. “For our region, winter and spring fronts are much more likely to generate flooding than tropical systems with 70 percent of flooding happening then. Normally, these big rain events end after spring.”
As we get into the summer, says Grymes, the number of fronts that make it into the southern Delta drop off precipitously. Farmland can often go an entire month without a seeing a front.
There are hints that this might be a warmer-than-normal summer, says Grymes. However, there's nothing currently suggesting we'll see a record heat wave.
“Soils are wet and we're still in the middle of frontal season. I can't rule out more moisture over the next couple of months. Once we get into May, though, while soils will still be wet the weather should normalize and soils stabilize.”
Some meteorologists claim we're moving into an El Niño, some say we're already in one, and some say we won't make it into one, says Grymes. In general, the majority opinion says an El Niño is in the process of developing. But there are a lot of uncertainties about that.
“For those of us in the South — particularly in the southern third of Mississippi and the bottom half of Louisiana — this is a big issue. El Niño's tend to make for wet winters and springs.”
Grymes says that most observational data is saying that El Niño (which is the warming of central Pacific Ocean waters and resulting weather patterns) is under way and is progressing, although slowly.
“Sometimes it depends on whose microscope you're looking into. The oceanographers are seeing some fairly reasonable, early signs of El Niño. Waters are getting warmer, although they're warming a bit differently than the last time around. Much of the warming is occurring below the water surface. While that's out of the ordinary, the expectation is that warmth will work its way to the surface. Then we'll have a more classical El Niño signal.”