bee on flower

MARION OWEN PHOTO

When bumblebees come out of hibernation this spring, they’ll be happy to learn that this summer is predicted to be warmer and drier than normal. Could this be true?

 

In 2016, weather was top news for Alaska, confirmed by NOAA’s climate.gov website: “Alaska experienced widespread warmth, shattering average temperature records that in some cases have been kept for more than a century.” Many communities recorded their highest average temperatures ever, including Kodiak, where the average temperature was four degrees F above normal. 

What can we expect for 2017? Will La Niña replace one of the strongest El Niños on record? Will our run of warm and dry summers be replaced with a soggy one? And will the cold weather in early January really wipe out pests like slugs and root maggots?

Let’s begin with predictions from “official” weather forecasters. Most experts agree that between a record-strong El Niño and catastrophic floods, fires and drought, 2016 was a memorable year for weather and climate in North America as well as globally.

The main engine behind recent year-to-year atmospheric variations around the globe is the El Niño and its sister counterpart, La Niña. You might recall my column from a year ago where I shared how forecasters were certain that the strong El Niño of 2015-16 would continue through the first half of 2016 and then begin to ease, making room for La Niña to step in. 

Now it seems the weather forecasters’ crystal ball has become a little cloudy. The likelihood of a bold La Niña event (which generally brings cooler temperatures) over the next few months is decreasing. As one climate.gov blog entry said, “There’s almost no telling what will happen later in the year, on the other side of the infamous ‘spring predictability barrier’ that often separates one El Niño or La Niña event from another.”

History shows that strong El Niño events like the one we just had are usually followed by a significant La Niña event. Hence the head-scratching by weather experts. In early December, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society stated that we might be heading toward “more El Niño than La Niña events for as long as a decade or two.”

Did you follow all that? You might have to pour a cup of coffee and read it again. Meanwhile, let’s check in with The Old Farmer’s Almanac, whose famous predictions are made 18 months in advance and are alleged to be 80 percent accurate. 

To summarize Kodiak’s weather predictions from November 2016 to October 2017 here’s what we can expect: Winter will be milder than normal, with the coldest period in early January. (Since early January has come and gone, how did their prediction measure up?)

Precipitation for the year will be near to below normal. The snowiest periods will be in mid-November, mid-December, and mid-January and mid-November, mid-December, late January.

April and May is supposed to be cooler than normal, with near-normal precipitation. (This is good news for gardeners transplanting out tender seedlings.) September and October precipitation will be slightly above normal, with temperatures above normal.

If you’re like me, you might be wondering, “How the heck does The Old Farmer’s Almanac come up with these predictions?” The story goes that, in 1815, almanac founding editor Robert Thomas was interrupted by a boy wondering what to put down for the weather forecast of July 13, 1816.

In some versions, Thomas had the flu. In others, he’s simply busy with other work. Whatever the reason, the entry for that day was supposedly “rain, sleet and snow.” In July.

It just so happened that 1816 was “the year without a summer,” thanks to the eruption of Indonesia’s Mount Tambora. Indeed July experienced sleet and snow that season. The forecast established the almanac’s reputation to make accurate long-range forecasts.

Whether the story is true or not, the 225-year-old almanac has become a closely watched predictor of weather, particularly winter weather. CNN’s meteorologist Tom Sater says people buy the almanac for its weather predictions. “In reality, predicting weather five days out can be a difficult task.” 

As for the nitty-gritty details of the almanac’s forecast, they remain a mystery to most. Like Coca-Cola, the secrets are locked up in a vault. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac website (almanac.com) the formula itself has dollops of science to go along with its historical methods.

“Over the years, we have refined and enhanced that formula with state-of-the-art technology and modern scientific calculations,” the site says. “We employ three scientific disciplines to make our long-range predictions: solar science, the study of sunspots and other solar activity; climatology, the study of prevailing weather patterns; and meteorology, the study of the atmosphere.”

Getting back to garden pests and what to expect. The almanac predicts that our summer will be warmer and a bit drier than normal, with the hottest periods occurring in early June, from late June into early July, and in late July. That will make bumblebees and other pollinators happy. Meanwhile, if between the January cold snaps and dry summer weather, the slug population took a hit, it wouldn’t break my heart. Just sayin’.

 

You CAN grow a wide variety of veggies, flowers and herbs in Kodiak. To learn how, talk with local growers, join the Kodiak Garden Club, or sign up for Kodiak Growers Facebook group. To contact Marion, email to mygarden@alaska.net or find her on Facebook, Instagram or visit her blog at marionowen.wordpress.com.

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