Recent predictions by the National Weather Service of a 50 percent chance that another La Niña will occur in the southern Pacific Ocean this fall can be taken two ways—with optimism or pessimism, said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas A&M University professor and Texas state climatologist.
Some may view the prediction with a sense of gloom, but before they get too pessimistic, they should remember the Weather Service is saying there's "only" a 50 percent chance, Nielsen-Gammon said.
The contribution of the very strong La Niña pattern of mid-2010 to the worst drought in Texas history continues to be felt throughout the state, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel reports.
"To look on the optimistic side, there is an equal 50-percent chance of having no La Niña at this time," he said. "And even if there is a moderate La Niña, it doesn’t necessarily mean we will definitely have a dry winter again, it just means it will be more likely."
It's also important to remember that the large computer models used by the Weather Service are predicting "a weak to moderate" La Niña, Nielsen-Gammon said. "Not nearly as strong as the forecasts were saying at this time last year."
In comparison, the La Niña that developed in mid 2007 and lasted into 2009 was a moderate one, and though it was associated with a dry summer, it was not nearly as devastating as the current weather pattern, he said.
If you view the cup as half-empty, and assume that we will have another La Niña starting this fall, it still shouldn't herald as severely a dry year as what we're currently experiencing, he said.
But, Nielsen-Gammon warned, better than worst doesn't guarantee the hardship the agricultural sector is experiencing will just go away. Abnormal La Niña or not this fall, a second year of even moderate drought would leave many water supplies in even worse shape.
"We already have had an extremely dry year, so we should see more precipitation next year, but there is still a very good chance it won’t be good enough take us out of the drought, and we will still be having problems with dry conditions even into next summer," he said.
More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/ .