Changing climate continues to affect agriculture

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Flooded soybean field
(Farm and Dairy file photo)

I can hardly believe as I sit here writing this article that 2015 is about to come to a close. It’s been a year of many surprises and challenges.

For me personally, as well as for many of you, it has been a year of both joy and sadness. The loss of close friends, and the beginning of life for others. Life is a journey of extreme highs and lows. This also appears to be the theme of our weather now, too.

I honestly never remember a Christmas that felt more like Florida than Ohio. The “snow birds” could have stayed home this year and been great!

Searching for answers

The question on many of your minds may be why? The extreme weather pattern takes me back to my college days. Wow, that was a long time ago. However, I remember a climatology class during my senior year, when I was to do a report on El Nino.

At that time, I was thinking to myself why would I ever need this or care about an El Nino? Funny how things work out. El Nino is contributing to many climatic changes affecting areas all over the world.

So, what exactly is El Nino? El Nino and La Nina are complex weather patterns resulting from variations in ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. They are opposite phases of what is known as the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle.

La Nina is sometimes referred to as the cold phase of ENSO and El Nino as the warm phase of ENSO. These deviations from normal surface temperatures can have major impacts not only on ocean processes, but also on global weather and climate.

Unusually strong

We are experiencing a very strong El Nino this winter. This is warmer than normal water in the Pacific Ocean near the Equator. According to weather forecaster Mark Johnson, this current El Nino is the third strongest since 1950. Strong El Ninos cause shifting areas of high and low pressures out of their normal positions during winter.

This often means wet where there is normally dry, and warm where there is normally cold. Most all El Nino years have caused Ohio snowfall to be about half of the normal 30-year average. The reason is that the warm, southerly breezes limit those northerly winds that tend to produce lake effect snows here.

Lower heating costs

Economically, we are already seeing reduced heating costs. Local communities are not spending lots of money on salt and snow removal. The effect of all of this in 2016 is yet to be seen. Reduced precipitation will definitely have an impact on our soil moisture and water table.

El Ninos typically last nine to twelve months, but some prolonged events may last for years. Many researchers believe that we will continue to have more extreme weather events.

This past year saw many parts of the country hit by scorching heat, devastating wildfires, severe storms and record flooding. We need to be aware of how global warming and weather patterns such as ENSO affect us. I guess that climatology class was beneficial after all? As we close 2015 and look forward to 2016, I am anxious to see what Mother Nature has in store for us.

Have a Happy and Safe New Year!

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Cathy Berg, Program Administrator for the Ashland Soil and Water Conservation District for 15 past years. Bachelor of Science Degree from The Ohio State University. Major in Agronomy with soils specialization and a minor in Natural Resources Management.

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