The 2013 growing season likely will be more of "randomness" in rainfall than a major trend shift to a return of general rainfall.
That's what Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon told attendees at the ongoing 2013 Beltwide Cotton Conferences at San Antonio, Texas on Tuesday.
The Texas A&M University Regents Professor and Texas State Climatologist said El Nino, a warming of temperatures of the Pacific Ocean, which normally means more rainfall, failed to live up to its expectations and just fizzled out. But La Nina, a cooling of ocean surface temperatures that largely resulted in historic drought in Texas in 2011 and also dry conditions in 2012, may not be the driving force in 2013, either.
Instead he said the Tropics look neutral for 2103. He said that means that cotton growers and other farmers shouldn't expect a return to a wet year, but more of a neutral growing season this spring and summer.
The El Nino and La Nina weather cycles are not the only factors that can affect the climate, Nielsen-Gammon noted. He said large volcanic eruptions, dust in the atmosphere, ground cover or lack of it on land, and other factors can all impact weather and rainfall. In addition to the Pacific, the Atlantic Ocean also can bring significant weather changes, including that of cotton growing regions.
Nielsen-Gammon said even when computer models look at the impacts of ocean temperatures, there always will be some random occurrences in rainfall, where a particular locality catches an isolated rain.
Among regions of the Cotton Belt, the climatologist said Texas and the Southwest, as a whole, likely will remain basically in the grips of dry conditions during the growing season.
Dr. Gaylon Morgan, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service state cotton specialist, College Station, said for much of Central and West Texas the drought never ended. Although not as severe as 2011, the 2012 crop year was tough—extremely hot and dry over most of Texas.
Morgan said neighboring Oklahoma did not fare any better. In fact, Oklahoma only harvested 50% of its original planted acres in 2012.
The cotton specialist says he fully expects a big decrease in cotton plantings in 2013, as cotton will find it difficult to compete with more attractive grain crops.
But whatever crops producers decide to grow in this year, Climatologist Nielsen-Gammon says not to expect a major shift back to generally wet conditions this year.
"The Tropics look neutral," he said.
But noting that the historic 2011 drought was both the driest and hottest in Texas history, maybe "neutral" for this growing season is not so bad, Nielsen-Gammon observes.
He concluded neutral Tropics for weather is positive news in the sense that in recent years, the Tropics had been going against cotton producers, especially in the Southwest.
It's likely not what cotton growers gathered in San Antonio wanted to hear for 2013 rainfall prospects, especially after so many had endured two years of drought, but it's the best the well-known climatologist could foresee at this time.