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Day: Prepare for the worst, hope for the best weather in coming years

Written by Emilee Gibb

Douglas – According to Don Day, Jr., meteorologist for the DayWeather Radio Network, producers around the state should pay close attention to weather trends, particularly in the next three years, as patterns indicate there may be a dry period ahead.

Day spoke during the 2017 Cattlemen’s Conference on Aug. 16 about current and upcoming weather trends for Wyoming.

Ocean temperatures

“When we have an El Niño, we have warmer air coming off of the Pacific,” explained Day, noting the jet stream also moves more slowly, resulting in slower moving storms.

Winters in an El Niño situation tend to be warmer than normal with above average precipitation, particularly in the spring.

“Going back to science class, warmer air holds more water,” he said.

Alternatively, water temperatures are colder in a La Niña situation, resulting in lower humidity, and the winters have stronger wind events.

“If the Pacific is cold, the air coming in from the west has less water,” Day commented.

Day explained that almost every major drought in Wyoming is associated with a La Niña.

He continued, “If we have more wind, we have more evaporation. It feeds on itself, and we tend to get into these very dry stretches of weather,” citing the 2012 drought.

Looking back from late 2013-16, Day noted there was above normal precipitation.

“We went into a La Niña late last fall through the early start of winter, and that’s one of the reasons we had such a warm fall and saw eastern Wyoming get so dry,” commented Day.

Solar cycles

According to Day, solar cycles play a key role in climate and, therefore, in weather forecasting.

“There are a lot of folks who think that the impact of solar activity is much less than other people give it credit for,” said Day. “My angle is, that’s like saying the furnace in our house, if we change it, won’t affect the people inside that house.”

He noted the worst drought situations historically are when the sun reaches its minimum activity at the same time as a La Niña.

“We see a pattern developing where the Pacific is definitely going to get colder this winter,” Day commented. “We’re also reaching our solar minimum in 2021.”

When there is an active sun, Day explained there are many cosmic rays globally, resulting in fewer clouds.

“The fewer clouds, the warmer it is because we have more solar radiation coming down,” he explained.

Alternatively, when the sun is at its lowest solar cycle, there are more clouds that block solar radiation, resulting in cooler temperatures.

“What happens is we have an increased chance of a cooler Pacific in a low solar situation,” he commented.

In light of the recent stretch of good precipitation for Wyoming, Day is concerned the solar minimum will coincide with the same time the region is in a La Niña.

Coming years

Looking into the coming years, Day noted he is concerned the state will face a dry cycle between 2018-21.

“We may have one year or we may have three years of dryness,” said Day.

While no computer models were used for his prediction, Day commented his concern is based on observed patterns.

“I am recognizing what’s happened in the past and applying it to what might happen in the future because these patterns repeat themselves,” continued Day. “They’re fairly predictable on a large-scale basis.”

He noted 2016 was “nerve wracking” for meteorologists as the Pacific Ocean was the warmest it had been since 1998.

  “Any time the Pacific reaches this real peak warmth, what happens is the Pacific goes back the other way, and there was a forecast for a pretty strong La Niña this year,” he said.

Planning

“If I were to just give producers a general long-range forecast for spring and summer 2018, I would tell them it’s going to be drier than normal,” said Day. “If we see that trend go into 2019-20 when we’re reaching the solar minimum, that gives me concern.”

While there is nothing that can be done about the weather patterns, Day noted he can look for trends.

  “We’re seeing signs that we’ll be trending dry,” he commented.

Referencing the 2012 drought, Day stressed he is unable to speak to the severity of the weather cycles predicted.

  “It’s hard to guess the severity, but we can tell what the trends might be,” concluded Day. “My heads up to agriculture in the next 12 to 36 months is to plan on dry and hope for wet.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..