No sooner has an exceptionally strong El Nino weather episode finally solidified, bringing renewed moisture to the region, then talk is turning to how quickly the reverse pattern — the dreaded La Nina — might follow.

No sooner has an exceptionally strong El Nino weather episode finally solidified, bringing renewed moisture to the region, then talk is turning to how quickly the reverse pattern — the dreaded La Nina — might follow.

El Nino is typically associated with active moisture-yielding storms, which have indeed been more frequent most of this past year, whereas La Nina — characterized by cooling waters in the equatorial Pacific — often signals drought.

“The El Nino impact means it should stay favorable to be wet through the spring, which for Colorado is the time of year that often gives us our best moisture,” said Nolan Doesken, Colorado’s state climatologist. “How it plays out after that depends on how strong and how long this El Nino is.”

Doesken was a presenter at the Colorado Crop Clinic earlier this week in Fort Morgan, hosted jointly by Colorado State Extension and the Certified Crop Advisers of Colorado.

El Nino and La Nina events do alternate from one to the other, but that doesn’t mean the fluctuation is predictable or consistent. What seems more important is which of the two occurs most frequently over a series of years.

“If we look back to the 1980s and '90s, El Nino was present about two-thirds of the time, and we had some of our wettest decades ever during that time period. In more recent years, La Nina has dominated. So it doesn’t oscillate conveniently back and forth,” Doesken said.

In a recent discussion with climatologists from across the Midwest, he said talk turned to examples of strong El Nino events that have collapsed, creating strong and sudden reversals in the predominate weather.

“It can change within a couple of seasons,” Doesken said.

Looking ahead to next year, he made a prediction.

“I could be just crazy wrong, but I will go out on a limb and say we should prepare for a distinctly hotter spring and summer next year than we had this year,” he said.

His prognosis is based on the elevated temperatures that characterize El Nino and lie upstream from the U.S. in the Pacific region.

“That sometimes has a lag effect for us,” he explained. “When the moisture lets up, that’s when the heat sets in. Historically, warmth and drought do go together, but if a wet spring does materialize, that will slow it down somewhat.”

Colorado farmers are coming off of a year of exceptional precipitation, including a month and a half of sustained river flooding last spring. Another unique feature was higher humidity and lower evapotranspiration rates than normal.

“For the 2015 growing season, some parts of Colorado had their lowest water stress year. In other words, the crops didn’t need as much water as they usually do,” Doesken said.

However, the growing season did end on a warm, dry note, so much so that in some areas getting the winter wheat crop established was a challenge.

“Things were looking a little sketchy, but then we had a couple of widespread storms — one in October and another one in the first few days of November — so that most areas of the state met their soil moisture deficiencies,” Doesken said.

Even so, the amount of winter snow the Eastern Plains have received so far has varied widely.

“I saw pictures of Holly, where they were just buried, but Lamar didn’t hardly have anything,” Doesken said. “Kansas got quite a lot of moisture but most of it was in the form of freezing rain.”

The overall storm track was classic El Nino material, however, and the same trend should persist for at least a few more months, he added.