This surreal-looking soybean field was a victim of the 2012 drought. Weather forecasters failed to see last year’s drought coming, and now meteorologists are taking steps to learn from what went wrong.
"The drought of 2012 was such a singularity, only repeated a few times in a century," Harvey Freese, a top private weather forecaster, told Reuters. "The temperature and precipitation departures were two standard deviations from normal. The year 1934 did begin to show up in our analog comparisons of past years, but we probably only dared to think about the possibility."
Last summer’s devastating heat and drought combination decimated crops and slowed barge traffic on the Mississippi River as water levels dwindled, according to Reuters. Now both forecasters and their customers are saying that improvement is overdue.
Many atmospheric events leading up to the drought were missed by most forecast models. A year ago meteorologists reported that the La Niña of winter 2012 was fading as sea surface temperatures warmed. However, atmospheric data indicated something different.
"Even though the oceans were acting like they were not in La Niña any more, the atmosphere was acting like we were," said Joel Widenor, agricultural director for Commodity Weather Group. Unfortunately, we didn't pay attention to that soon enough to adjust our forecast last spring. It's something we're watching this year. We think it was a pretty big factor last year."
What about 2013?
Many climatologists and meteorologists agree: 2013 may rival last summer’s drought.
Most forecasting models, including the U.S. government’s, hint at another hot and dry summer for areas west of the Mississippi River. Read more here.
Meteorologists Planalytics agree that the drought will likely persist and intensity in some locations.
“The deck is stacked toward La Niña, which we associate with drought,” Fred Gesser, senior business meteorologist, said during a webinar last week.
The highest risk of drought is in the Plains states from Texas to the Dakotas with much of Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri also affected. Read, “Meteorologists: Don’t say ‘goodbye’ to drought just yet.”