El Níno expected to return; drought zones likely to expandThe meteorologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture says it is “extremely likely” the El Níno effect will be felt this year, which should suppress hurricane activity in the Atlantic, but also contribute to dry conditions and expand drought zones in some regions.

Brad Rippey, the USDA’s meteorologist, said June 2 that the El Níno conditions are most likely to return in late summer or early fall. The weather pattern starts with a band of warm surface water in the Pacific and can impact trade winds, temperature and precipitation.

Drought conditions may creep into the Northwest as the summer progresses, Rippey said. The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center’s outlook for mid-May through the end of August also predicts the drought will reach the West coast and Intermountain West.

As of mid-May, the National Weather Service reported drought covering 38% of the lower 48 states, remaining at the same level as in January.

“However, the area affected by extreme or exceptional drought has been expanded from about 10% of the contiguous states in mid-April to 14% in mid-May,” according to the most recent forecast from the Climate Prediction Center.

Dryland crops in the Northwest may require more irrigation water this summer and fall because of decreasing soil moisture, Rippey said.

El Níno expected to return; drought zones likely to expandDry conditions are predicted to increase in southern Kansas and spread the drought southwest to New Mexico and Arizona growing regions, the meteorologist said. The Climate Prediction Center has a similar outlook, predicting surface and subsoil moisture levels to drop in those areas.

The center’s forecast also includes expansion of the drought to the remainder of far southern Texas and much of southeastern Texas and on into the southwest corner of Louisiana by the end of summer.

Some northern regions, beginning in central Kansas and reaching into the northern plains, are expected to have drought status removed later this year as forecasts from the center show above-normal precipitation from late May onward.