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El Nino could end drought

Chow Time: Chicken soup for cooler weather
Wilting, sunbaked cotton plants in a dry field.

Cool temperatures and rainfall are two things most of Mississippi has not seen lately. Winter weather, however, could change that if anticipated El Nino conditions play out, but rains will not arrive quickly enough to save this year’s crop for some growers. The southwest quadrant of the state, encompassing Copiah and Lincoln Counties, is currently in what the U.S. Drought Monitor report classifies as a D-4 (exceptional drought) zone, while other portions near or below Interstate 20 are in D-3 or D-2 zones.

Mike Brown, state climatologist and meteorology professor at MSU, said previous El Nino winters have contributed to some of the coolest annual temperatures and wettest years on record.

“The El Nino in 1997 brought about our fourth coolest annual temperature to date,” Brown said. “The events of 1979 and 1983 were more pronounced, with 1983 being the third wettest and 1979 the fourth wettest years on record. This is not to say that we will see record rain or temperatures, but chances are better for a cooler and wetter winter, which is much needed to dig out of the current drought.” Brown explained the formation of El Nino patterns as an interaction between the atmosphere and the ocean. “Generally, the trade winds in the southern Pacific blow east to west -- just south of the equator -- from around Peru toward northern Australia,” he said.. “When there is higher atmospheric pressure over Australia, these trade winds tend to weaken or can even reverse direction. This helps to warm the water in the central and eastern portions of the Pacific due to less upwelling of cooler water from the coast of Peru. The reduced upwelling and warmer waters are conducive to more thunderstorms in the central and eastern Pacific due to increased instability. “We have several row crops that just are not going to yield this year,” said Corey Bryant, an agronomist and soil fertility specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “In the southwest part of the state, some growers are looking at the potential of not having anything to harvest. That is financially devastating, especially those who are just getting started.” Tyler Soignier, MSU research and Extension program manager based at the E.G. Morrison Brown Loam Branch Experiment Station in Hinds County, said a majority of growers in central Mississippi are dealing with yield reduction across all their row crops due to the extreme drought. “We had good growing conditions and adequate rainfall throughout May and June, but since July 9, we have not received a rainfall event over half an inch,” Soignier said. “The majority of our row crops initially looked good, but as the dry and hot weather continued throughout the summer, we began to notice that our plants were not able to fill out the fruit they had set as they began to reach physiological maturity. With the vast majority of our growers in this region having dryland fields, we have seen devastating yield loss.” EDITOR’S NOTE: Excerpted from Mississippi State University Extension Service report.


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