Question: Is there a correlation between the extreme cold weather we’ve been having and this year’s growing season?
Answer: After this winter, everyone is asking about the next season. The often-asked question is whether a cold winter is related to a cold spring and summer. The very simple answer is not really; unfortunately, our climate system is a lot more complex than that to follow logical patterns.
This winter has been one of the coldest on record, and throughout the United States a number of records have been reset in terms of low temperatures. We’ve also had ice on the Great Lakes that we haven’t seen for the last 40 years. The natural question is, will this pattern persist and bring a cold spring and summer? If we examine weather records for the United States, you can find years in which a cold spring follows a bitter cold winter, or a very warm spring follows a warm winter. However, for the vast majority of the years, there is a very weak relationship between winter and spring or summer conditions.
The reason for this lack of relationship is the global circulation patterns, which cause extreme shifts between seasons and different weather patterns to emerge, resulting in a weak relationship among seasons. The easiest way to think about this for the mid-latitudes is that our weather is very chaotic within a given season and even more chaotic among seasons.
The climate pattern we’ll have for the next few years is that this variability will increase within a year and among years. So, we can expect more extremes of cold and hot, wet and dry. And that will lead to more people asking another question: What is going on with our weather?
–Answered by Jerry Hatfield, USDA-Agricultural Research Service
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