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Comments on the current drought and upcoming winter from the Florida State Climatologist

David Zierden, the Florida State Climatalogist, recently wrote an update on the current drought conditions and what we can expect for the next few months. I am printing it here with his permission because it gives an good overlook of what we are experiencing now and what to plan for fall, especially if you are concerned with winter pastures and small grains. Thanks David!

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We are currently in neutral conditions in the Pacific (no El Nino or La Nina), so there is no indication that the winter will be wetter or drier, warmer or cooler from the Pacific Ocean alone.  This dry spell was brought on at first from hurricane Dorian and Humberto, both of which tracked to our east and brought in drier (and HOT) condition on western backside of these storms out over the Atlantic.  I don’t think there is any connection to El Nino/La Nina.

In the short term, we are getting our first “cool” front of the season on Wednesday that brings the best chances of rain in a while (60-70%).  It won’t be a lot, but better than the forecast has been for quite a while.

So, the questions are:  1) when will you have enough soil moisture to plant winter pasture? 2) Will the moisture be sufficient through the winter growing season? 3) How warm or cool will winter temperatures be?

1) Since this has been mostly a “Flash” drought, or quick onset, a couple of good wet weather systems may go a long way.  But, it is going to take much more than any rain on Wednesday and there are no big rain-makers on the horizon after that.  If planting can wait until Mid-November, we may have better answers.

2) If we were to get some good rain, there is no indication that dry conditions will persist through the winter.  If we don’t start getting good rain, the impacts could drag on.  More questions than answers here.

3) I know just enough about winter pasture that some grasses do well in colder weather and others in warmer conditions.  With trends over the last 10-15 years, warmer temperatures are always a good bet.  The only recent exceptions were the winter (Jan. – Mar) of 2010, followed by a very cold December in the following year of 2010. Otherwise, it has been consistently warm regardless of El Nino/La Nina.

Oh, and the Drought Monitor is always a compromise between short-term rapidly developing drought and long-term impacts like hydrology/groundwater.  It is hard to come to an agreement between the two on one weekly map. It was never designed to be an accurate or TIMELY representation of range/pasture conditions alone.  The USDA payout system puts the Drought Monitor folks in a tough position.  So yes, it will mostly lag several weeks behind actual pasture conditions.