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Will El Niño Bring a La Niña Drought to the US Midwest?

23 June 2016

ANALYSIS - As the US Midwest comes out of its very strong El Niño, it could transition into La Niña. Could that mean drought for Midwest farmers?

Elwynn Taylor, climatologist and professor at Iowa State University, speaks with Sarah Mikesell about weather expectations for the second half of 2016.

"This year we're coming out of a very strong El Niño event. El Niño is the friend of the Midwest farmer," said Elwynn Taylor, climatologist and professor at Iowa State University.

"When El Niño is going on, [the Midwest] has a 70 per cent chance of an above trend-line yield for both corn and soy beans all across the Corn Belt. When it's neutral, it's about 50-50. But when we switch to a La Niña, then there's a 70 per cent chance we're going to be below trend and a greatly increased risk of going into drought. People are really worried; is this El Niño is going to shift into a La Niña?"

Mr Taylor said the end of an El Niño doesn't always result in a drought. Of the past five strong El Niño events - and the current Midwest El Niño is one at the top-five in strength - only twice did the Midwest go into a drought - 1983 and 1988.  

"We don't know what this year will turn out to be - it could still turn into an '83, but it's too late to be an '88. The '88 was already a big drought by now," he said. "If we look at the other three times with strong El Niño, we have above normal crops the next year. It didn't even go into a strong La Niña at all, so we don't really know, but a strong El Niño tends to hold on."

Sarah Mikesell, Senior Editor

Sarah Mikesell, Senior Editor

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