Climatologist Sees Good Chances for El Nino to Bring Relief to OklahomaWed, 19 Mar 2014 15:11:14 CDT
One of the featured speakers at the recent "Surviving the Elements" symposium presented at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum was historical climatologist Evelyn Browning-Garriss. She and her fellow presenters tackled land and water issues facing the western United States.
She spoke with Radio Oklahoma Network Farm Director Ron Hays and says, unfortunately, the drought many parts of the state have been experiencing for the last several years is not going away any time soon. It may be punctuated with temporary breaks when an El Nino condition appears in the Pacific, but the ongoing drought is a factor of the climate producing drier conditions. That fact, she says, is not necessarily so dire. (You can listen to their full conversation by clicking on the LISTEN BAR at the bottom of this story.)
"It's like the dry spell you had in the 50s. It didn't go away. Instead, people learned to cope with it and be productive with it, but they had to adjust how they went about doing things." Browning-Garriss says she has been telling people that for the next 15-20 years "Oklahoma has a new normal and it's one that people in the 50s made a profit from with a lot less technology and information."
The good news, she says, is that the drought of the 1950s was interspersed with rain events.
She says the root of the current problem is an overheated Atlantic Ocean whose moisture that used to funnel through the Central Plains is now deviating southward and is blowing straight into Mexico. In the Pacific, there has been a cooling trend which reduces the number of monsoon rains coming from the west and reducing the number of summer thunderstorms in Oklahoma.
"It's going to take years for the Pacific to warm up; you don't heat an ocean quickly. It's going to take decades for the Atlantic to cool down. Meanwhile, people will have to adjust."
While those overall ocean changes may take a long time to unfold, short term changes look like a good bet for this summer, Browning-Garriss says. Already the U.S. government is calling for an El Nino watch in the Pacific as it appears more and more likely to form. If that happens, it would be good news for Oklahomans.
"When that comes, it normally brings good rainfall to most of northern and eastern Oklahoma. And the only places that don't get extra water are typically parts of, unfortunately, southwestern Oklahoma. But even those areas, in an El Nino, frequently have average moisture and I think a lot of Oklahomans would appreciate an average summer."
An additional factor that could increase the chances for rain in Oklahoma this summer is a volcanic eruption in Indonesia. Mt. Kelud sent volcanic ash 18 miles high into the atmosphere. Browning-Garriss says the effects of that are similar to an El Nino event themselves and will only serve to strengthen an El Nino and bring more rain to Oklahoma if it develops this year.
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