“You must always be able to predict what’s next and then have the flexibility to evolve,” said Marc Benioff, co-CEO of SalesForce.com. He makes a good point.

“One can’t predict the weather more than a few days in advance,” physicist Stephen Hawking noted. This is another good point.

But still, we humans try to figure out what’s going to happen ahead of time. During the general session on Feb. 2 at CattleCon23, meteorologist Matt Makens did his best to prognosticate what will happen with the weather this year.

“We’re about to slam the door on La Niña,” he said as he kicked off his forecasting. During La Niña events, trade winds are stronger than usual, pushing more warm water toward Asia. Off the west coast of the Americas, upwelling increases, bringing cold, nutrient-rich water to the surface. According to NOAA, these cold waters in the Pacific push the jet stream north. This tends to lead to drought in the southern U.S. and heavy rains and flooding in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. During La Niña events, winter temperatures are warmer than normal in the South and cooler than normal in the North.

“This one has been historically long and with historic strength,” Makens said of La Niña, which has been lingering for several years. Because of that, plant health is still poor in the Central and Southern Plains, but likely to improve in the Ohio and Tennessee river valleys this spring.

Hoping for the best out west

Meteorologist Matt Makens digs into decades of weather data to make predictions each year. He presented his outlook for 2023 during a general session at CattleCon. Photo by Courtney Llewellyn

Makens noted that La Niña is still very much present and robust, but she’s weakening. The event is 14% likely to remain at full strength by late spring. “This autumn, we’ll see if El Niño wants to come in,” he said of the shift that normally happen.

El Niño returning is currently 52% likely, “but these are predictions for the ocean, not the atmosphere, which is slower to respond,” Makens cautioned. “There will be a delay. We’re likely to see more of an impact in 2024.”

What can farmers be on the lookout for then?

  • Spring (March – May) – Makens predicted limited areas with surplus moisture, as spring will have “a very La Niña” look. Moisture will be favored in most of the Country Folks region, with normal temperatures throughout the season (and maybe warmer at our region’s extremes – in Maine and North Carolina).
  • Summer (June – August) – This season may be slightly wetter than it has been the last few years, especially in New England, and it may be warmer than usual for the Country Folks region, especially closer to the Atlantic seaboard.
  • Autumn (September – November) – Makens believes atmospheric moisture will head west at this time, and it will be much warmer in New England, New York and New Jersey if a full-blown El Niño comes in this autumn.

Makens builds his predictions on analog years – those that most closely resemble the patterns he’s been tracking. To see more of his forecasts, visit MakensWeather.com.

by Courtney Llewellyn