Shawna Aakre, Agriculture Journalist

Everyone tends to think El Niño weather patterns are dry. But that is really not the case according to Daryl Ritchison, Meteorologist and Interim Director of the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network at North Dakota State University.

“We have had a few dry ones, but most are very close to average. On the other hand, Modoki El Niño patterns in the Pacific, like what we see now, have very average precipitation but a difference in temperatures,” Ritchison said. “Meanwhile, the Atlantic Ocean is in a negative colder phase which means we tend to have colder than average autumns.”

During his presentation at the Prairie Grains Conference in Grand Forks Thursday, he said that is exactly what happened this fall, but of course it was the precipitation that largely affected harvest. Meanwhile, Ritchison said most areas this past summer were what he would consider normal with average temperatures. The lack of rain in May held many through because of the wetter and cooler April. Plentiful rains did come throughout the summer he said, with exceptions in the northern Red River Valley and northwestern Minnesota where it was also warmer than average.

Traditional of an El Niño December, he said we are running four to five degrees above average but that will flip into a more average pattern in January and February. Moving into the spring, he thinks it will be much better than in 2017 and 2018 due to the negative Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), a negative cooler climate cycle affecting the sea surface temperature in the Northern Atlantic Ocean.

“My thoughts on precipitation are that we will be close to average or a little below in the spring. There are parts of northern Minnesota that have been dry five years in a row and this will be six if my predictions are true. But this is closer to average. The good news is that we tend to have warmer than average springs following a Modoki winter with the current Atlantic activity. We should get out earlier in the spring.”

Concerning the summer months, Ritchison said northeastern North Dakota will have slightly above average precipitation while northwestern Minnesota looks to have a bit lower precipitation than average, similar to the past five years.

“There is a trend toward cooler autumns, which means we will see earlier frosts in the fall. Early frost is classic for a negative AMO, but then there are usually better springs because of it.”

For those who have heard him speak the last few years, Ritchison said he continues to stress that while the last 20 years people have gotten used to an extra 25 percent more moisture, it will be essential to think beyond the wet cycle. He believes we are gradually going back to weather patterns before this time period. Then, he briefly discussed tools other than thermometers used to study historical weather patterns, as well as the significant historical patterns throughout the last few centuries.

“Ocean temperatures pretty much control our weather far more than land masses. And our current weather is replicating the late 50s and early 60s, almost scarily so. Ocean patterns are also very similar,” Ritchison said. “Those are the years that I have been using to help make my analog forecasting projects for the future. The last time the AMO was negative, North Dakota was average and Minnesota was above average for temperatures. What happens in the ocean does not stay in the ocean.”

Ritchison said it is important to always look forward in business, even as it applies to weather cycles. He said NDAWN is working to give producers the best return on investment they can with the information they provide.

Source: Shawna Aakre, Agriculture Journalist