By Brad Haire
University of Georgia
Georgia's weather is now associated with a neutral El Niño - Southern Oscillation, said David Stooksbury, state climatologist and engineering professor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
A neutral ENSO is one not marked by an El Niño, when surface water of the Pacific Ocean along the equator is warmer than normal, or a La Niña, when the water is cooler, he said. El Niños bring Georgia cool, wet winters and springs. La Niña winters and springs are typically warm and dry.
During the drought between 1998 and 2002, a La Niña pattern kept winter rain from adequately recharging the state's groundwater, reservoirs and soils, he said.
A neutral ENSO winter has "variable" weather. It could be warm and dry one week and cold and wet the next. The winter of 2003- 04 was a neutral one, too.
It rained between October and February in Georgia, but not much. "I was a little concerned that if that cycle continued," Stooksbury said, "there could be water issues this summer."
But March, historically one of Georgia's wettest months, brought most of the state's 12 to 17 inches of rain since the first of the year, according to the Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network.
Moisture conditions are generally good across the state. "The recent rain has done a good job recharging the soil moisture," Stooksbury said. "Farm ponds are filled, and the reservoirs are in good shape."
The recent soggy weather has kept some farmers out of their fields and prevented some from planting corn and tobacco in the southern region.
The variability of the neutral ENSO will even out as summer approaches, he said. Georgia will have a typical, humid summer with temperatures in the mid-80s and 90s and spikes around 100. The heat should generate hit-or-miss afternoon thunderstorms.
Localized droughts can happen quickly during Georgia's hot summers. Two to three weeks without rainfall in an area can be enough to hurt farm crops and have an economic impact, Stooksbury said.
This year should have an above-average tropical weather season in the Atlantic Ocean. But fewer storms than in 2004 will likely make landfall, according to information released by the Department of Atomospheric Science at Colorado State University.
For detailed information on the spring and early-summer climate outlook, go to the Southeast Climate Consortium's Web page at secc.coaps.fsu.edu.
Climate impact information and Georgia farm and forestry decision tools can be found at www.agclimate.org.
(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)