The first of what will no doubt become many tropical weather forecasts and storm predictions for the 2014 hurricane season is hot off the presses and has been released by researchers at Colorado State University. If forecasters are right, it should be a relatively slow year for hurricane development across the Atlantic Basin.
While that may be good news for coastal residents on the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coastlines, farmers as far inland as Kansas and the Ohio Valley say tropical systems in the summer often represent hope for crop-saving moisture, especially during active storm years.
Last week the climatologists and meteorologists at Colorado State University (CSU) released their 2014 hurricane season predictions. They are calling for a relatively quiet season with nine named storms, five hurricanes and one major (Category 3 or higher) storm this year, considerably below the long-term average.
If you are enjoying reading this article, please check out Southwest Farm Press Daily and receive the latest news right to your inbox.
CSU's Philip J. Klotzbach and William M. Gray, noted tropical forecasters, cited several factors that may contribute to a below-average season this year. An El Niño, or ENSO pattern, is expected to form in the Pacific Ocean as we head into hurricane season. This typically increases the amount of wind shear across the Atlantic, which helps to disrupt tropical cyclone formation.
The same pattern that brought abnormally cool weather to the east coast this winter has helped to lower water temperatures across the Atlantic. These cooler than normal water temperatures are expected to continue into hurricane season, potentially reducing tropical cyclone intensities and frequencies.
CSU is projecting a 20 percent chance of at least one major hurricane making landfall along the U.S. East Coast this season. The average for the last century is 31 percent, well above CSU's early projection.
Regardless whether the summer of 2014 brings more or fewer tropical systems to U.S. waters, climate scientists are saying agriculture is already showing signs of change. Andy Jarvis, Policy Analysis Research Area Director for the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, says climate change has become a tangible reality for farmers in tropical and subtropical regions.
He says researchers have already found that increasingly erratic weather and high temperatures are changing the growing patterns of world commodities like chocolate and coffee. But Jarvis says they will also affect other crops in the near future.
Farmers in the U.S. Southeast and in the Gulf states are already feeling the pressures of a changing climate, from searing summer temperatures to unusual and often drastic and unexpected weather developments. Farmers and ranchers who depend on weather standards are paying the price as water shortages limit irrigation and overall water availability, causing crops to fail and livestock to suffer.
Jarvis and other researchers say the average person doesn't understand the drastic changes that can take place with only minimal climate change. For instance, a two-degree temperature increase in Peru would limit the potato plant's ability to produce tubers, the edible root of the plant.
In addition to effects of temperature readings and rainfall rates, researchers warn that as the world warms, so will pressure from pests and pathogens, conditions that will create massive challenges to agriculture. According to a tropical agriculture report in the Scientific American, plants are likely to perish from an increase in pests and pathogens linked to warmer and wetter conditions brought about by global climate change. The report indicates mealybugs in Thailand and white flies in Africa are significant threats, with the latter serving as a vector for plant viruses.
As far as the 2014 tropical season is concerned, forecasters say while there should be less tropical activity in the Atlantic Basin, they warn coastal residents in the U.S. that ocean temperatures in the Caribbean and warm Gulf of Mexico may not be limited by an ENSO event in the Pacific and as such, tropical systems could easily form near U.S. coastal waters.
But even without tropical activity, a late summer El Niño could bring Pacific moisture to the American Southwest, and storms in the Gulf could provide needed moisture at the peak of the growing season.
But with or without a hurricane landfall on U.S. soil this year, there is at least a moderate chance of appreciable moisture during the late growing season of 2014 across wide areas of the West and Southwest and even in parts of the South.
And there is a chance that Klotzbach and Gray are wrong about their forecast for the summer hurricane season. Both warn their April hurricane prediction model is subject to change as the season approaches and both concede that forecast modeling has been wrong before.
Their advice is that if you live in a coastal region it is always safe to assume that you are subject to fast approaching tropical weather developments. For farmers, that can be good news or bad news, but only time and the climate will tell.