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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

MU professor predicts another hot, dry summer for 2013

Can CoMo handle 80 more inches of snow to balance out past summer’s drought?

Despite the snow falling from the rooftops, Columbia is in for another hot, dry summer.

Tony Lupo, a professor of soil, environmental and atmospheric sciences, is predicting Columbia’s 2013 summer will be a little cooler than last year’s heat wave.

“It’ll be above normal but with range of what we would call typical,” Lupo said. “It’ll continue to be dry, but not as dry as last year.”

The long-range forecast was made using data from the El Niño and La Niña weather patterns.

“When we make a long range forecast, we start by looking at El Niño and La Niña,” Lupo said. “That’s the 800-pound gorilla of weather patterns with two seasons.”

According to a MU News Bureau news release, the two different patterns can mean vastly different weather for mid-Missouri. La Niña directs the jet stream from the Pacific Ocean on a northeastern path over Canada. Rain-producing storms follow the jet stream, leaving states in the central and south-central U.S. dry. El Niño, on the other hand, not only brings moisture to the Midwest, but also brings cooler and wetter weather. Lupo’s forecast is also based on patterns of jet streams and computer models of ocean temperature. The computers predict ocean temperatures for the rest of the year, to judge whether El Niño or La Niña is the dominant weather pattern that year.

Statistics of what happened during past El Niño and La Niña years are usually used to make long-term predictions, but Lupo said that this year the pattern is currently neutral, which means the pattern is not clearly El Niño or La Niña. He said the computer patterns predict it will continue to stay neutral all year and continue to stay around average levels temperature and precipitation.

“For me, a neutral pattern means you stay with what you've got,” Lupo said, laughing. “And what we’ve got is a little drier than normal.”

Associate professor of soil science Randall J. Miles said he thinks soil moisture, crop and tree production could face problems.

“For the past 12 months, we are about 9 to 10 inches short compared to the 30-year, 12-month average,” Miles said in an email. “The soil profile is dry, below about 18 inches as of right now.” 

Dry soil is a problem because soil stores water for plant use, Miles said. Soil normally stores moisture in the during the winter months so plants can use the moisture during the summer. 

Miles said the verdict is out as to whether the snowmelt will actually aid in repairing drought damage.

“If most of the snow melts and runs off, it will help the rivers, lakes, and streams much more than the soil and crops,” Miles said. “The major amount of water from the snow must infiltrate into the soil to really start to ease the drought.”

Lupo said the snowstorms have been a big help but not big enough.

“Right now, still behind on moisture,” Lupo said. “We would need another 80 inches to balance out the dryness.”

Dryness that cannot be cured by 20 inches of snow is a result of two very dry summers, Lupo said.

“If we get too far behind in moisture, it'll take a longer period of time to recover,” Lupo said. “It takes as long to get out of something as it does to get in. We’re 18 months into this, so it may take a year to 18 months to get out.”

Lupo said he is hopeful not to have a record-breaking summer again but also said heat and dryness are both inevitable.

“Drought is just part of the natural ebb and flow of things,” Lupo said. “We've seen it before and we'll see it again.”

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