Tara Zimmerman

Weathercatch: Warmest April since 1934

By Nic Loyd, WSU meteorologist, and Linda Weiford, WSU News

SPOKANE, Wash. – The last time the Inland Northwest saw such a warm April, Franklin D. Roosevelt was president and a gallon of gasoline cost 10 cents.

Now, with gas costing $2.20 a gallon and the term of the country’s first black president winding down, we just emerged from an April that was almost as balmy. It got so warm that on some days temperatures in eastern Washington were on par with southern California and even Miami.

On April 20, we broke an all-time record for that date when the mercury in Spokane surged to 85 degrees. It topped out at 80 degrees the day before and the day after. The thermometer read unusually high early in the month as well, with April 1 reaching 68 degrees and the 8th day hitting 78.

Consider that the first time temperatures reached 80 degrees in 2011 was on June 22 – two months later than this year. And though you might recall that last April enjoyed above normal warmth, this year we’re talking about significantly above normal warmth.

While it’s uncommon for April to see temperatures in the upper 70s/low 80s, for it to happen on separate spells is plain rare. So it’s not surprising that the natural world has reacted by springing to life ahead of schedule.

Master gardeners with WSU’s Spokane County extension office report that April’s plant development was so lush that it seemed more like the end of May. Also, instead of tree and shrub species blooming one after another, many bloomed at the same time.

What caused these bursts of heat? Several strong ridges of high pressure drove up the temperatures and drove out the rain. Early indications are that the month of May will see unseasonably warm conditions as well. As you’re seeing, this week is no exception.

Weathercatch is a bimonthly column that appears in The Spokesman Review.

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Shortcomings in Modeling Precipitation

By CIRCulator Editorial Staff Reprinted from: The Climate CIRCulator MANY CLIMATE ADAPTATION plans are largely based on climate model projections of precipitation. However, many of these models are notorious for their inability to accurately simulate seasonal rainfall at the regional level. This is especially true for the Pacific Northwest where models consistently depict summers as […]

El Niño declining; cool sister may take its place

By Nic Loyd, WSU meteorologist, and Linda Weiford, WSU News

SPOKANE, Wash. – One of the strongest El Niños on record is waning. Now the big question is whether La Niña is on the way.

A temperature shift in the tropical Pacific Ocean, combined with climate model outlooks, suggest that she probably is.

In fact, if surface sea waters continue to cool, La Niña could emerge as early as this fall, say scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and an increasing number of international forecasters.

Why is this significant?

Because La Niña – like her attention-grabbing brother El Niño – can disrupt normal weather patterns around the globe. But while El Niño is marked by a band of warmer-than-average sea water in the equatorial Pacific, La Niña represents cooler-than-average water in the same region.

Which means, if El Niño seesaws into a La Niña event, various parts of the world could get hit with very different weather in 2016-17.

The Pacific Northwest is no exception. In 2015, El Niño was a major driver behind the region’s unusually warm weather and lack of snowpack in the mountains. The emergence of a strong La Niña could do just the opposite, bringing greater precipitation and cooler temperatures.

It’s not unusual for these naturally occurring phenomena to run back to back. Most legendary is the double billing that took place in the late 1990s, when the strongest El Niño on record segued into a powerful La Niña.

Each ushered in its own stretch of intense weather conditions around the globe, ranging from heatwaves and severe droughts to heavy rains and flooding. If El Niño produced intense heat and less-than-average rain in a certain location, chances are, La Niña did the reverse.

Talk about the ultimate sibling rivalry.

If a La Niña episode is on the way, her impact in the U.S. would peak next winter, bringing cold and wet weather to the Pacific Northwest, warm and dry conditions across the southern states and cold, stormy weather patterns to the central and northern tier.

Weathercatch is a bimonthly column that appears in The Spokesman Review.

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Miniature heat wave coming our way

By Linda Weiford, WSU News

PULLMAN, Wash. – A rare, early-April warmup will bring Washington state its first dose of summer, with temperatures surging into the upper 70s and low 80s in the region east of the Cascade Range.

If you’re suffering from a vitamin D deficiency on the heels of winter, tomorrow and Friday are days you will want to get outdoors and soak up the sun. The state will experience a miniature heat wave, with temperatures expected to run up to 25 degrees above normal, said meteorologist Nic Loyd of Washington State University’s AgWeatherNet.

“Birds are singing and flowers are blooming – we expect that in April. But highs in the low 80s? In some locations, it may well be one for the record books,” he said. Warm temperatures will peak Thursday in the western part of the state and Friday in the eastern half, he explained.

Cities such as Yakima, Walla Walla, the Tri-Cities and Wenatchee should all surpass 80 degrees, while Lewiston, Idaho is predicted to top 86 degrees – breaking its 1952 record for that date of 79. If Wenatchee and the Tri-Cities hit their forecasted high of 83 degrees, they will break records as well.

Pullman is expected to reach 75 tomorrow and 79 on Friday. The normal high for those dates is 55.

The brief temperature spike is due to a warm, high pressure ridge over Washington that’s expected to weaken on Saturday, said Loyd.

“Though the heat will be short-lived and the weather this weekend will cool off into the 60s, temperatures will still remain above normal for this time of year,” he said.

Nic Loyd, WSU meteorologist, 509-786-9357, nicholas.loyd@wsu.edu
Linda Weiford, WSU News, 509-335-7209, linda.weiford@wsu.edu

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Wettest Winter

By CIRCulator Editorial Staff Reprinted from: The Climate CIRCulator THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST has been in an historic drought for years. Nonetheless, if you ask someone on the East Coast to picture our region, they’re bound to conjure up images of thick flannel, immaculately trimmed beards, artisanal coffee, and, yes, rain, lots and lots of rain. […]

Vulnerability of 11 Tree Species to Climate Change

By CIRCulator Editorial Staff Reprinted from: The Climate CIRCulator TREE MORTALITY EVENTS spotlight forests’ vulnerability to climate change, but most studies of forest vulnerability tend to focus on one or two economically important tree species or groups of tree species. The vulnerabilities of other tree or non-tree species are often omitted, along with the interactions […]

Stripper headers – a new, cool tool for adapting to a changing climate (w/ video)

Adaptations can include new equipment to handle harvest differently, like the stripper header, mounted on this combine. Photo: H. Davis

At this point, we have learned quite a bit about the likely implications of climate change for agriculture. A couple of good summaries of national implications and likely impacts in the Pacific Northwest are good places to start, if you want to get more detail.

Though significant questions remain, it’s clear that producers across our region will need to adapt to warmer and drier summers, warmer winters, and changes in when irrigation water is available. But what does that adaptation look like? That’s the question we asked when we started the “Farmer-to-Farmer” case study series. We wanted to know what strategies forward-thinking farmers in our region are already using, that could enhance resilience in the face of climate change. And we wanted to look at strategies across a number of production systems in the Pacific Northwest—dryland and irrigated cropping systems, beef production, and dairies.

Let me be clear. These farmers aren’t adopting the specific techniques we looked at because of climate change. Their primary motivations include a host of more immediate reasons—cutting costs, diversifying or enhancing revenues, coping with their farm’s environmental constraints, and sustaining the land for future generations, to name a few. But the strategies they’re using will also likely make their farms more resilient in the face of climate change—whether by storing or using soil water more efficiently, reducing disease, pest, and weed pressures, or by other means.

Working with partners at the University of Idaho and Washington State University, we now have 10 “Farmer-to-Farmer” case studies in the works, on topics ranging from diversifying dryland crops, to using deficit irrigation to maximize profits under water constraints. Each of these case studies will have both a written publication, and an accompanying short video, which we will share here as they are completed. Last year we shared the first of these case studies highlighting Eric Odberg’s use of precision nitrogen technologies.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TwtvrtfY6s?rel=0]

And now we are ready to share the next 7-minute video above (the written publication is under peer review). Ron and Andy Juris are wheat farmers, and they’ve switched to a “stripper header” to harvest their wheat. A stripper header goes on the front of a combine, and is used to harvest the grain. Instead of cutting the wheat plant off as a traditional header does, the stripper header catches the heads of wheat and strips the kernels off, throwing them into the auger. Why is this important? It leaves more residue standing in the field, which cuts wind speeds and shades the soil. This reduces temperatures for the next crop’s seedlings, and conserves soil water by reducing moisture lost to evaporation and transpiration.

Wheat residue after stripper header harvest, covered with frost during January of 2014. The Jurises say that although this represents a small amount of water, they feel that every drop counts in their dry climate. Photo: A. Juris

So why is this likely to help the Jurises’ farm be more resilient to a changing climate? Hotter, drier summers have the potential to increase stress. This is particularly true for fall-planted crops (which are normally planted in August and September, when temperatures are still high), so tools that help seedlings get solidly established will be critical. The Jurises’ broader strategy includes eliminating tillage and growing crops every year (rather than every other year, as is common in this dry area). Together, this increases residue and carbon inputs to the soil, and reduces carbon losses. Over time, this improves soil structure and aggregation, and increases water infiltration and water holding capacity, all features that help it nurture plant life even under the more difficult conditions that climate change is likely to bring.

You can hear more about the stripper header and how it is part of that greater strategy directly from Ron and Andy Juris. And if your curiosity is piqued, take a look at this primer sharing science findings on stripper headers and their benefits to soil moisture.

Good News for Pikas?

By CIRCulator Editorial Staff Reprinted from: The Climate CIRCulator FOR YEARS, scientists have been trying to figure out why many populations of pika, those tiny, cute, furry animals found in rocky slopes in the American West’s Great Basin and surrounding areas, were moving upslope to higher, cooler elevations. Since the distant relatives of rabbits perish […]

Mapping Northwest Forest Vulnerability to Climate Change

By CIRCulator Editorial Staff Reprinted from: The Climate CIRCulator LAST YEAR DROUGHT killed some 12 million trees in California’s national forests, according to the U.S. Forest Service, while in Oregon and Washington over 1.6 million acres were affected by wildfires, according to Northwest Interagency Coordination Center. But what if managers had known beforehand which regions […]