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Preparing Farmers for Possible Longer-Term Weather Forecasts in Future

By Don Comis
December 8 1999

Forecasts based on the El Niño-Southern Oscillation phenomenon might help farmers manage cold-weather crops like winter wheat.

After analyzing 103 years of climate data, Agricultural Research Service scientists found evidence of higher winter wheat yields during El Niño's cool, wet winters and lower yields during La Niña's warm, dry winters. The current La Niña that began in the spring of 1998 suggests an increased probability of warm and dry conditions over the winter wheat belt in the coming months.

The existence of this and other persistent and possibly predictable climate mechanisms lead some to believe that interseasonal climate prediction may be possible under certain circumstances.

So, ARS atmospheric scientist Steven A. Mauget and soil physicist Dan R. Upchurch are studying if, where and how such predictions might be used by farmers. Mauget and Upchurch are in the ARS Wind Erosion and Water Conservation Unit at Lubbock, Tex. ARS is the chief research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

These mechanisms are usually rooted in sea-surface temperature variability, so Mauget and Upchurch have turned to the ocean.

They plan to search ocean temperature and air pressure records over the past century for clues to 12- and 20-year rainfall cycles observed over the Midwest. They want to see if they can isolate the source and test to see if the cycles are predictable.

Finally, they'll test how farmers might best use the forecasts, using computer simulations to track a farming career with and without seasonal forecasts.

An article about the research appears in a special December Millennium edition of ARS'Agricultural Research magazine. Click here to read the article online.

Scientific contact: Steven A. Mauget, ARS Wind Erosion and Water Conservation Unit, Lubbock, TX, phone (806) 749-5560, fax (806) 723-5272,