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Looking forward to an El Nino winter in 2012-2013

With two weeks of near-100° weather recently in our rear view mirror, and harvest not even yet begun, it's strange to already be thinking about winter weather.  But in my email inbox today I received a special alert from the Western Weather Group, the agricultural weather specialists whose forecasts we receive as a part of our membership in the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.  It included the following map:

El Nino forecast 2012-2013

There are a lot of qualifying words in there, but the simple message is that the Climate Prediction Center has looked at the oceanic conditions and projected 40%-50% greater than normal precipitation for California.  These predictions are based on the surface temperatures across the equatorial Pacific, the section of ocean whose fluctuations determine whether we see El Nino, normal, or La Nina conditions.  Typically, El Nino years shift the storm track south, providing wetter-than-normal conditions across California and colder, drier than normal conditions across the Pacific Northwest.  La Nina years see lower than normal rainfall in Southern California, though Northern areas tend to do OK.

Having an El Nino winter on the horizon is generally a positive thing.  We want as much rainfall as possible in the winter, since we know we won't receive rain in the summer growing season and we want our soils and underground aquifers and reservoirs to store up as much moisture as possible against the coming dryness.  Of course, it opens up the possibility of earlier than normal storms, like the massive mid-October rainstorm we received in the middle of the 2009 harvest. For that reason, the consistently warm summer and the comparatively early harvest we're expecting are even more welcome.

Will any of this turn out?  It's all just a probability, so there are no guarantees.  But I'm much happier going into a harvest season knowing that there's a strong likelihood of above-average rainfall to follow than the opposite.  Now just to get it to hold off until November...

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