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Normal or better rainfall?

DANIEL LOOKER 02/21/2014 @ 3:29pm Business Editor

Long-term outlooks for weather during the growing season aren't forecasts, meteorologists speaking at the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum reminded listeners Friday. They show the probability of weather being hotter or cooler than normal, or drier or wetter. 

However, if the world's most sophisticated computer models are correct, the odds for drought in most of the Midwestern Corn Belt appear low. Precipitation shows up as normal on many of the maps currently generated from those models.

"At least at this point, it looks like near or even above would be a good bet," said Anthony Artusa, a meteorologist with the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Camp Springs, Maryland. 

Models are also showing that an El Nino could develop this summer. An El Nino, the name given to abnormally warm Pacific Ocean surface waters off the west coast of South America, has a strong effect on weather patterns. But in the U.S. Midwest, "the El Nino signal is normally very weak during the summer," Artusa told Agriculture.com during an interview after a breakout session on weather. 

Its effects strengthen in the fall, when it can contribute to wind shear in the Caribbean that weakens developing hurricanes.

What Artusa calls a "flash drought" that developed in six weeks last August and September has persisted in the western Corn Belt, however.

Brad Rippey, an agricultural meteorologist with USDA's Office of the Chief Economist in Washington, told his Outlook forum audience Friday that the droughts of 2012 and 2013 have shifted westward, something the entire nation has focused on as California's drought heads toward what could be its fifth worst in its historical records.

"There still is a bit of lingering drought in the Midwest, generally centered on Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois," Rippey said.

"Generally, this winter, everything west of the Mississippi, with a few exceptions, has been trending dry," he said.

Long-term models for drought are still projecting very dry conditions in the southern Plains, Southwest, and California, where the summer is normally dry.

"We need a miracle very quickly to prevent what is going to be a water crisis in 2014," Rippey said of the nation's top-producing agricultural state. 

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