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Jonathan Knutson, Forum Communications, Published December 16 2012

Weather expert predicts 2013 will be a ‘risky year’ for agriculture

GRAND FORKS – Next year probably will be wetter than drought-plagued 2012, but the region’s 2013 growing season threatens to be risky nonetheless, according to a weather expert here.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that normal conditions will pervade,” Leon Osborne said. “We will see an improvement take place. The question is, will it be enough?”

Osborne, president and CEO of Meridian Environmental Technology, spoke Thursday at the annual Prairie Grains Conference at Grand Forks’ Alerus Center.

Osborne also spoke at the conference a year ago and warned that drought could become a big problem in 2012 – a prediction that came true. Despite the drought, however, area crops generally fared well, thanks to abundant subsoil moisture.

“We were lucky last year,” he said. “We had reserve moisture.”

In contrast, most area fields will begin 2013 much drier than unusual. That means area crops will need above-average precipitation to catch up on their moisture needs, he said. “This year (2013) is a risky year.”

His 2013 forecast calls for near-normal precipitation and temperatures from late spring to early summer. That prediction comes with a confidence factor of 75 percent.

But near-normal conditions may not be adequate for the 2013 crop, especially if rain doesn’t come at key stages in the crop’s development, Osborne said.

Complicating predictions for the 2013 growing season is the lack of any major global weather phenomenon such as La Niña, or unusually cold ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific. The presence of such phenomena can help forecasters determine future global weather patterns.

The current absence of such phenomenon means “there’s not a real clear indictor” of what next year’s weather will bring, Osborne said. “There’s a lot of speculation.”

What about winter?

When Osborne spoke at the 2011 Prairie Grains Conference, he predicted that the first few months of 2012 would be cold and snowy. But last winter turned out to be mild and dry.

“The weather business is always one of those tricky things,” he said.

Osborne now forecasts a colder-than-normal winter in 2013, attaching a confidence factor of 90 percent to the prediction.

Last winter, the Arctic oscillation, which involves atmospheric circulation over the Arctic, unexpectedly turned positive. That caused less frigid Arctic air to reach the Upper Midwest in early 2012.

Now, the Arctic oscillation is well established in its negative, or cold, phase, which will allow more cold air to reach the Upper Midwest in the first few months of 2013, Osborne predicted.

His forecast also calls for the region’s 2013 snowpack to be “just about normal, maybe just a touch below normal.”

Jonathan Knutson writes for Ag Week