Early 2019 expected to bring El Niño-like weather

Looking forward to what remains of the winter season, there are a few concerns on the horizon.

Over the last several weeks, dry conditions continued in the southern Prairies, while frequent storms on East Coast caused localized flooding, which may impact spring planting conditions. Frequent rains on the British Columbia coast delayed vessel loading in Vancouver. Meanwhile, farmers in Ontario benefitted from a mild December, which allowed row crop harvest to finish.

Approaching El Niño will be key

The main weather driver for the first three to four months of 2019 is likely to be a developing El Niño.

Early 2019, and the second half of Canada's winter, could bring El Niño weather conditions to the country and impact some farming areas.

Sea surface temperatures along the equator warmed considerably over the past six months and are now 0.5C to 1.5C above normal. This warm pool of water is usually an indication of El Niño. There are some other meteorological parameters needed to officially declare an El Niño, but there are signs that El Niño is already changing weather patterns around the world. 

If it walks like a duck...

One region of the world that feels the impact of El Niño is eastern Australia. During an El Niño event, eastern areas of Australia usually experience a significant drought. That's already been experienced and has lowered wheat, canola and pulse production. This is a definite sign of an El Niño.

In Argentina, above normal precipitation is the trademark of an El Niño. The country already felt the effects of El Niño with their winter wheat crop, but the rains helped recovery from the severe drought in the first three months of 2018. The rains caused harvest delays for the wheat crop, but improved moisture conditions for the planting of the corn and soybean crops.

Although the El Niño is not official, the current weather patterns indicate this event is certainly having global impacts that are typical of an El Niño. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck - or in this case, an El Niño. 

Warm second half of winter ahead

The main impact of El Niño on the Canadian winter depends on location. The impact is strongest in the west and weaker in the east.

The primary impact for British Columbia is above normal moisture, usually received in the coastal regions. Western Canada tends to be drier and warmer than normal, especially in the southwestern areas of the Prairies. The impact is subtle in Ontario and Quebec, but winter temperatures tend to be above normal. Atlantic Canada tends to not be impacted by El Niño conditions.

Bottom line

El Niño may not be officially here, but there are signs the event is already having an impact around the globe. The benefit for Canadian farmers is that most regions will experience a warmer than normal winter. 

Bruce Burnett is the director of markets and weather at Glacier Farm Media. Bruce can be reached at bburnett@farmmedia.com or via the website at MarketsFarm.com.