Climate and Agriculture in the Southeast

Outlook for the 2018 growing season

Here is my latest short article on the climate outlook for the 2018 growing season, to be published in UGA’s Peanut Pointers newsletter later this week:

In spite of what seemed like very cold temperatures over the winter, the April-like temperatures we experienced across the Southeast in February have left us well above normal in temperature for the year so far. Precipitation has been less than normal in most of the Southeast since January 1, which has led to an increase in drought conditions. Fortunately, recent rains has helped with the drought in Alabama and northern Georgia but has largely missed southern Georgia, where soil moisture remains low. Cooler conditions and a bit more rain in the next week should help with those conditions to some extent.

Looking ahead to the growing season, we are coming out of a moderate La Nina event and are expected to be back in normal conditions by late spring. Often when this happens, we see dry weather in May and June, which would not be good for planting conditions. The long-range forecast from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center indicates that we will have equal chances of below, near or above normal precipitation for March and for March-May, which means that there is no real skill in their forecast and you should just use watch the changing weather conditions to see what pattern sets up this spring. The temperature forecast for March does not lean one way or the other either. Based on my look at long-range weather forecasts, I think it is likely that the southern half of Georgia has already experienced its last freeze, but I expect to see a couple more cold outbreaks this month that could get down below freezing in the northern half of the state. Looking ahead on temperature, based on long-term trends, above normal temperatures are more likely to occur than normal or below normal temperatures for most of the next year. That will put stress on crops even if we get a decent amount of rain.

In an ENSO-neutral year, the Atlantic tropical season tends to be more active than normal. That means that the number of named storms is likely to be higher than usual. Of course, we don’t know when or where they will track, so you will need to watch the forecasts carefully to see if you are in the path of whatever storms develop or if they will miss you. One thing to note is that the Gulf of Mexico is very warm again this spring, which could lead to rapid intensification of storms that move over that region. It is possible that we could even see a storm before the start of the official season on June 1.