“Where’s my El Nino?”

Marchant tyrell
Editor / Progressive Cattle

That’s the question many farmers and ranchers have been asking over the past year, and the answer is one many might not want to hear: El Nino is here, but it’s already on its way out the door. This particular El Nino pattern is now expected to be short-lived, meteorologist Matt Makens told attendees of the CattleFax Outlook Seminar held Feb. 2 during the NCBA’s Cattle Industry Convention in Orlando, Florida.

“Last year, I said, ‘We’re heading toward an El Nino,’ and everyone cheered,” Makens said as he presented the long-term weather outlook. “Some of you have been asking about El Nino: Where is it? Well, now I’m telling you we’re headed back to a La Nina.”

While some of the Southeast and southern Plains enjoyed some much-needed precipitation in late winter, falling surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean indicate that this El Nino cycle is fizzling out and won’t have lasted long enough to make much of an impact on the agriculture industry.

“Does the atmosphere respond to that punch [from changing sea surface temperatures],” Makens posed, “or does it have stronger abs and not feel that punch?”


Based on the available data, he expects the punch to land. Similar scenarios have resulted in quickly fizzling El Nino cycles several times over the past 40 years – most recently in 2007 and 2016. Computer models seem to agree with the history: El Nino has peaked, and La Nina will be firmly entrenched by this summer. Ample rain and snow can be expected across the West and Plains early in the year, providing a strong start to the season for forage crops like oats, grass and alfalfa. Makens said producers should make the most of that moisture while they can.

“People will be happy about their precipitation early on,” he said, “but then you’ll start talking to your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘It’s been a couple weeks since our last rain.’”

However, Makens said, conditions may be closer to neutral than an out-and-out La Nina as the year wears on. Historical data suggest a strong monsoon season in the Southwest, but Makens cautioned producers in the region against putting too many metaphorical eggs in that particular basket. While he doesn’t expect a lot of precipitation across the U.S. in 2024, he says the possibility shouldn’t be ruled out.

“Maybe the La Nina doesn’t come in roaring and we have that neutral summer,” he said. “Maybe in the fall, we get so much water in Texas we hold off drought. … But my main concern is that this La Nina doesn’t just come back for one year but multiple years.”