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A Troublesome Little Girl

December 27, 2010

According to NOAA, the government weather folks, we are smack dab in the middle of a La Niña event. La Niña, the “girl” is the counterpart to El Niño, the “boy.” Both events are determined based on analyzing historical sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, and both have a huge impact on our weather in North America. Both are part of the weather pattern dubbed “ENSO” — the El Niño Southern Oscillation. To determine whether we are in one or the other event, weather researchers look at the sea surface temps and when they’ve been hot enough (or cold enough) for long enough, they declare that the event has begun! Here’s a graphical example:

This is from the ENSO information website at

The effects of La Niña vary, depending on where you live. Right now, this gal is responsible for the blizzard running up the east coast of the US. She’s also responsible for the abnormally dry weather we’re experiencing in Oklahoma. Here in Tryon, America, we’ve had less than 3″ of measurable precipitation since mid-August, putting us way below normal for that time period. Currently, the US Drought Monitor has most of central Oklahoma in a moderate drought, though it’s starting to feel a little worse than moderate here.

The information put out by the climate prediction folks at NOAA is critical to making farming decisions. When they started squawking about a developing La Niña event early last summer, I made the decision not to plant any cool season grasses this past fall, fearing that we wouldn’t get enough moisture to support fall grazing. I’m sure glad I held off, because we barely got enough moisture to make the seed sprout, much less grow enough to graze. For miles around this area, you can see fields of winter wheat so thin you can see the planting rows and only standing a few inches tall. My younger brother, the wheat farmer near Tuttle, has gotten a few more inches of rain, so his wheat is in better shape than what I see in this neighborhood.

Being extra dry now does have one nice benefit: it’s made it easier for us in terms of parasite control. We’ve been able to keep the dewormers on the shelf since late summer. When the eggs hatch in dry weather, the larva die before they can reinfest the host ( in this case, our ewes and lambs). We have plenty of good quality hay, so we are feeding hay and letting the ewes fertilize the pastures, moving them each time they finish a round bale.

Looking elsewhere amidst the scientific gobbledygook, I discovered this graph:

This map assumes La Niña is going to wrap up in the 1st quarter. Keep your toes crossed!

The jury is still out on whether La Niña is going to grow up and go away before spring. Hopefully, she clears out just after we finish lambing in early March, and we get those grass-growing, in-like-a-lion-out-like-a-lamb spring showers we usually enjoy in Oklahoma.

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