By Dan Rahn
University of Georgia
Neutral conditions, or sea surface temperatures near normal in the tropical Pacific Ocean, will continue for the foreseeable future, said Joel Paz, a Cooperative Extension agrometeorologist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
Paz tracks climate patterns as part of a team of researchers who offer advice on neutral, El Niño and La Niña phases through the SECC. The group, which includes Florida's state climatologist David Zierden and his Georgia counterpart David Stooksbury, shares its weather knowledge online at www.agclimate.org.
"After brief La Niña-like conditions last winter and spring, sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean returned to normal in April," Paz said. "These temperatures should remain in the normal range for the rest of the summer and into the fall."
More of the sameGenerally, that means continued variable temperature and rainfall patterns.
The mild La Niña helped dry out the Southeast during the late winter and spring, Paz said. But it dissipated at the end of April and "hasn't been a player in our climate patterns over the past two months."
Tropical Storm Alberto brought beneficial rains to southeast Georgia in mid-June. But the seasonal summer rains since then have been very scattered and inconsistent in most of the state, he said.
"Between the La Niña winter and spring and the very dry early summer, year-to-date rainfall deficits are high," Paz said. These deficits have caused critically low soil moisture levels for agriculture and other interests.
VariablePredicting the summer climate for the Southeast as hot and humid is usually a pretty safe bet. "However, summer rainfall amounts can be highly variable, both in the year-to-year totals and in the spatial coverage," Paz said.
Monitoring Pacific Ocean surface temperatures helps predict the climate in the winter and spring. "But the influence of the Pacific is generally much weaker during the summer," Paz said.
For the rest of the summer, expect conditions to stay relatively stable, he said. Georgia may remain fairly dry.
Summer evapotranspiration rates typically exceed rainfall in Georgia. So expect soil moisture, surface and groundwater levels to remain low, even with a return to normal rainfall.
Look for the tropics to begin heating up, too, he said, and bringing beneficial rainfall to all or parts of the region. "Everyone hopes to avoid a direct hit from a damaging hurricane," he said. "But rainfall from tropical systems is a vital element of our late summer and fall climate."
The 2006 tropical season has gotten off to a slow start compared to last year, Paz said. But it's likely to be another active one, according to Dr. William Gray and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration experts.
The slow start this year is typical of the usual tropical season, he said. Activity usually begins in earnest in August and especially September.
(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)