Great to see some of you at the West Georgia winegrape symposium today! For those who missed it, here is a summary of what I am expecting for climate conditions this summer and fall.
One month ago, dry conditions across Georgia were hampering the best efforts of producers to get their crops in and see them flourish. It seemed likely to me that we were headed into a drought, as often happens in the spring following the end of a La Nina. Then, in mid-May, the atmosphere threw a switch and we went from too dry to too wet in the course of about a week as tropical moisture surged north into the Southeast. Scattered heavy thunderstorms were followed by the even heavier rain from Subtropical Storm Alberto, which helped increase the flow of humid air into the region as it moved north through Alabama. Now, many fields are just starting to dry out after three weeks of much above normal rainfall. The rain, along with cloudy skies and lack of sunshine, has slowed the growth of peanuts already planted, and has kept farmers from getting into the field to do their last planting or to apply sprays to growing plants.
I wish I could tell you that this is all over now and things will get back to normal, but I don’t think it is likely. With very wet soils, we have the perfect fuel for more thunderstorm activity. Of course the rainfall from these storms is going to be scattered, so some fields will get more rain than they need while others get bypassed. However, the prediction for June and for the summer period are that above normal rainfall is likely to continue to occur. Temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico are very warm and this time of year could see the development of another tropical system or two which could bring rain to the area or could bypass us in favor of a track across southern Florida. In fact, some of the longer-range weather models are showing the development of another Alberto-like storm which could bring another round of rain to the Southeast by about June 14. This is pretty far out to plan for, but something to watch carefully. If we do get more rain, streams and fields could flood again very easily since water tables are high.
Later in the season, I think things will revert to drier conditions. The La Nina is gone and neutral conditions are expected to swing the other way, putting us in El Nino conditions by later in the summer. An El Nino has the effect of reducing the number of tropical storms in the Atlantic, and cold Atlantic Ocean temperatures in the area of the Atlantic where most mid-season hurricanes form should further reduce the development of hurricanes from July on. Less tropical activity usually results in drier conditions in the Southeast in summer and fall, which could be good for harvest if it doesn’t dry out too much.
If we do get an El Nino, our early expectations for next winter would be for cooler than normal temperatures and wetter than normal precipitation as the subtropical jet stream pushes stormy weather right over the Southeast. By August we should have a much better sense of what to expect.