Okay spring weather ahead, says forecaster
But weird summer could mean crop damage
By: Kevin Ma
| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 06, 2013 06:00 am
Albertans should expect to get all their crops in the ground this spring, predicts a popular meteorologist, as it looks like it will be free of floods or droughts.
It was standing room only last Jan. 30 at the Edmonton Expo Centre as about 300 farmers gathered to hear the latest forecast from Drew Lerner, an agricultural meteorologist with the Kansas-based World Weather Inc. The popular forecaster was in town as part of the FarmTech 2013 conference.
2012 was a nasty year for farmers weather-wise, said Lerner, with much of Saskatchewan and Manitoba too soaked to grow crops.
2013 looks much better, he said. “We are not going to have a flood again this spring,” he predicted. “We will be able to get crops into the ground.”
Lerner predicted near- to below-average precipitation for most of the eastern Prairies, along with cooler temperatures. “Alberta’s a little bit different,” he continued, and could be a bit wetter and warmer than normal. Expect near average rainfall and slightly warmer temperatures around Edmonton.
He based these predictions off patterns in the jet stream, sunspot cycles and temperature trends in the Pacific Ocean.
Water temperatures in the Pacific suggest that we will not have an El Niño or La Niña climate pattern this year, Lerner said. Those patterns, which occur when big temperature shifts are spotted in the tropical Pacific, exert strong control over world weather. Weather becomes far less predictable (but also less extreme) when they’re absent.
The main factor shaping this year’s weather is the jet stream, Learner said, which meanders about on an 18-year cycle. At this point in the cycle, the jet stream should blow over Alberta from the northwest and the Yukon come springtime. Those regions don’t have big lakes that could charge up passing clouds, so Alberta won’t get much moisture from these winds.
This doesn’t mean a drought, he emphasized, but it could be an issue for places like southern Alberta, which had a slight soil moisture deficit as of last fall. Thick snowpack in most of the province could make up for this dryness.
Sturgeon County has about one to half a metre of snowpack right now, said provincial soil moisture specialist Ralph Wright, which is on the high side of normal for here, as well as normal levels of soil moisture.
By summer, Lerner said, the 18-year cycle suggests that we should get winds blowing from B.C. east across Canada, making for cooler weather. “On average, we’re probably not going to see many extremes this summer.” Still, given the big temperature swings of late, he couldn’t rule out the risk of a late frost.
The sunspot cycle (a measure of the number of magnetic storms on the sun) suggests that 2013 should be a year of intense solar activity, Lerner said, which history suggests will mean a cool summer and a wet autumn. “It’s going to be a little more challenging this year getting the crops out of the field.”
Lerner put a big asterisk over his summer and fall predictions, however. If the U.S. drought resumes, for example, it could create a wall of high pressure extending up into Alberta. That would mean above average rainfall here, as storms headed east would hit this wall and bounce back west.
Astronomers are also seeing far fewer sunspots than expected, he noted, casting doubt on fall predictions as well.
Expect a good growing season with a wet finish in and around Edmonton, Lerner said, with a risk of spring frost and fall rains. “I think we’ll have good yields, but there may be some quality issues.”
Science has not yet advanced enough for people to make crucial decisions based on long-range forecasts, cautioned David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada.
Environment Canada has predicted near normal temperatures and moisture for Alberta this spring, Phillips said, but he wouldn’t bet a lot on it.
“It’s very hard to figure out what Mother Nature is going to throw at you,” he said, and an emergent El Niño or a volcanic eruption could throw all predictions out the window. “It’s a bit of a crap-shoot.”
Farmers should consider multiple forecasts and other factors, such as soil moisture, when planning for this season, Phillips said.