The rain in Spain may fall mainly on the plains, but here in the U.S., there will be precious little water falling anywhere in the Southern Plains this spring and summer.

But for those who live in the northern regions, the forecast is better. According to CattleFax weather analyst Art Douglas, the storm track that has dominated winter weather early in 2011 will continue to stay across the northern half of the Plains for the next several months and the northern and central Rockies will continue to add to their snow packs.

Douglas, who has been providing CattleFax weather forecasts for 36 years, says a dry high-pressure system is developing across the Southern Plains. “It develops over the dry soil and kind of feeds on itself.”

He’s also concerned about ongoing drought in Mexico. “Keep an eye on that drought because it’s going to be a source of major problems as we go into the spring,” he says. “It’s going to be the source of a lot of hot, dry air that comes into the U.S. as we roll along in March and April.”

La Niña effect

The current La Niña, which is defined as cooler-than-normal sea surface temperatures along the equator, is the second strongest since sea surface temperatures have been monitored, and the strongest since 1917-18. Thus, its impact of world climate patterns has been profound.

What’s more, all the models indicate that La Niña will dominate weather patterns throughout 2011. “La Niña events typically last 14-18 months and the current La Niña is less than 10 months old,” Douglas says. “This minimizes the chance of an El Niño this summer.” He thinks a return of El Niño, and the wetter weather it brings, is more likely in 2012 and 2013.

Douglas’ forecast for March through May calls for cool weather along the West Coast and very warm temperatures with continuing drought throughout the Southwest and Texas, extending up through the winter wheat region and into the western Corn Belt.

Looking into the summer months, he says a change in high-altitude wind direction along the equator, from east to west, indicates a very dry Midwest and fewer hurricanes hitting the Southeast. “The summer forecast is for above-normal temperatures underneath a dry high, which is developing in the Midwest and Canadian border regions,” he explains. He predicts the dry weather that will enshroud the Southern Plains and western Midwest will persist through the summer.

“The summer monsoon in Mexico should develop on time and spread into the Southwest in late June or early July,” he says. However, the rainy pattern will tend to shift west. While Arizona will benefit, it could result in dry conditions in New Mexico and West Texas.

For the Southeast, with a high developing farther north, better southeasterly flows are possible. “Temperatures and precipitation will be a lot closer to normal, compared to the hot, dry summer last year,” he says.

In comparing weather patterns for the last 60 years, Douglas says 2011 will look a lot like weather patterns in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. In fact, he predicts our weather this year will be very close to that observed in 1955, 1956, 1963, 1971 and 1976.

Sunspots are a concern

Sunspots, Douglas says, are important because they throw extra energy toward the globe. The last peak in sunspot activity was in 2001 and NASA is forecasting the next peak to have only a third the activity as in 2001.

“The last time that happened was in the early 1800s. Or worse yet, you go back into the 1600s and 1700s. That was called the Little Ice Age. So I think we really need to keep an eye on what the sunspots are doing over the next two years. If they don’t rise, then we’re going back into [a climate pattern reminiscent of] that 1600-1700 period, which was the Little Ice Age, with a tremendous amount of global cooling.”