Climate information gaining importance

It’s often said that everyone complains about the weather, but no one does anything about it. True. But a group of scientists is trying to change that.

While they are the first to concede they can’t change the weather, they are developing ways in which farmers and others can better adapt to changing weather patterns.

Within the last few decades, scientists have gained a clearer picture of how shifting temperature patterns within the Pacific Ocean can affect weather throughout the world. We know that cool, rainy conditions that currently prevail in the Southeast are associated with El Niño weather patterns, while La Niña typically produces drier weather conditions in the Southeast.

Why is this so important? Because it has provided scientists with a better insight into how people can adopt strategies to cope more effectively with these changing patterns.

The Southeast Climate Consortium (SECC), a collaborative effort of scientists from several different disciplines and universities, was developed to equip farmers, foresters and others with practical tools for anticipating emerging weather patterns and adjusting their management systems accordingly.

More recently, experts have learned how farmers can use SECC climate data and corresponding tools to anticipate how their yields ultimately may be affected as well as when and where crops should be optimally planted.

In the case of La Niña, for example, farmers may choose to plant a crop that is less susceptible to drought, while, in the case of El Niño weather patterns, they may opt for crops that are more tolerant to excessive rainfall.

But the news gets even better: Using the management tools developed by the SECC, farmers can gain a clearer picture of what they should do up to six months in advance of these conditions. Likewise, based on the planting dates they choose, the tools can provide farmers with a clearer idea of when their crops will be ready for harvest.

All of these climate management tools are available on the web at

One especially important resource is known as the Climate Risk Tool, which provides historical information about rainfall and temperature based on climate phases, whether this happens to be El Niño or La Niña.

The feature also provides historic weather data for the past five years.

Another valuable tool, especially for corn producers, is the Yield Risk Tool. By specifying factors such as their county, the main soil type and whether the cropland is irrigated or non-irrigated, producers are able to identify potentially optimal planting dates.

The value of these tools should not be discounted. In this global economy, when complexity and uncertainty are permanent rules of the game, these new resources are fast becoming valuable risk management tools.

EDITOR’S NOTE — Brenda Ortiz is an Alabama Cooperative Extension System agronomist and Auburn University assistant professor of agronomy and soils.

TAGS: Management
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