The Drought Discussion Podcast

Episode 2. Seasonal Climate Outlooks and Grass-Cast - July 15, 2022

July 21, 2022 Drought Learning Network Season 1 Episode 2
The Drought Discussion Podcast
Episode 2. Seasonal Climate Outlooks and Grass-Cast - July 15, 2022
Show Notes Transcript

We bring you this podcast with the intention of helping you figure out how much rain to expect this season and - if you’re managing rangelands - how much forage you might get. During the growing season we share seasonal precipitation outlooks from NOAA’s National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center and grassland productivity forecasts from Grass-Cast. Grass-Cast gives you a heads-up in late-spring and early summer for how well your rangeland grasses could grow during the upcoming summer season, depending on whether precipitation in your area ends up being above, near, or below-normal.

Please visit to view the maps discussed in this episode. Or click here to load a PDF.

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[00:00:00] Caiti Steele: Welcome to the Drought Discussion podcast. Thanks for joining us as we share the latest drought, precipitation and forage outlooks for Arizona, New Mexico and the Southern Plains. The information in this podcast is best used in combination with local knowledge of soils and topography, plant communities, grazing history and other conditions.

[00:00:20] It should never be used as a sole basis for decisions or to replace local observations of the land you manage. I'm Caiti Steele, Southwest Climate Hub coordinator and director of the ARID project at New Mexico state university. 

[00:00:36] Tonya Bernadt: And I'm Tonya Bernadt, the Education and Outreach Specialist for the National Drought Mitigation Center or the NDMC. Thanks for joining us today. 

[00:00:45] Caiti Steele: Thank you for tuning in to listen to our second podcast. So in our first episode, we covered the seasonal precipitation and temperature outlooks with Curtis Riganti and Julie Elliott looked at the June 28th Grass-Cast predictions for rangeland forage productivity. So we're back again because there is a new Grass-Cast map just released. And we are going to hear again from Curtis, who will recap on the seasonal projections for precip, and then turn to Julie who will cover this latest Grass-Cast map. So you might recall from our first episode that we interpret Grass-Cast maps by looking at the seasonal outlooks of precipitation and temperature.

[00:01:29] And to help us with this, we've asked Curtis Riganti, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center to remind us a bit more about these seasonal outlooks. These are the same ones as we covered last time, because they haven't updated yet. But Curtis will remind us about what these seasonal outlooks are showing for the moment for July, August, and September. So over to you, Curtis. 

[00:01:54] Curtis Riganti: Thanks again for having me on, Caiti. A recap of the three month outlook. So for the July, August, and September period is as follows. So again, these were updated last on June 16th. We are recording this podcast on July 15th. So this outlook will be updated soon. You would, in order to find the updated seasonal outlooks, you'll want to go to the Climate Prediction Center's website.

[00:02:23] That's You can find those on there. So the current outlook from June 16th, again, shows above normal precipitation being more likely across much of the state of Arizona and the far Southwest corner of New Mexico with below normal precipitation being slightly favored from far Southeast New Mexico into north central New Mexico.

[00:02:56] So covering a lot of the Northeast claims of New Mexico and with equal chances for above or below normal precipitation between those areas. Above and normal temperatures are favored across the entire state with the highest probabilities for that. Over the kind of central Northwest Eastern portions in New Mexico with slightly less likely, but still likely for above normal temperatures being favored over Southwest New Mexico.

[00:03:24] And really that's the story across much of the Western US with the highest probabilities centered over Utah and Western Colorado. So resulting outlooks for drought. This was the latest forecast released on June 30th is still for improved conditions over basically central and Western portions of New Mexico through most of Arizona with even a few parts of Arizona being likely to see drought removal.

[00:03:54] Whereas the far Eastern Plains are still likely to see drought persist during the period through the end of September. And those maps again, can be found from the Climate Prediction Center and the next update for those should occur at the end of July. 

[00:04:10] Caiti Steele: Fabulous. Thanks, Curtis. Um, just a reminder, the CPC, the Climate Prediction Center, they update the maps.

[00:04:17] We are keeping snapshots of these maps on our website, so you can see how they've progressed easily over the season. And that website is, And the link's also available on the podcast page on Buzzsprout. So, Curtis, a quick question for you. Have you've got any reason to be optimistic about the monsoon, have you heard any rumblings about whether or not it's gonna persist in being a bit disappointing or maybe it's gonna uptick to something a little wetter for the, for most of us. 

[00:05:03] Curtis Riganti: Yeah. So the last several weeks of the monsoon, at least in kind of central and Southeast New Mexico have dried out a little bit over the last month. We've still seen above normal precipitation across much of New Mexico. Looking forward, at least for the next eight to 14 days.

[00:05:22] So this covers the July 22nd through 28th period looking at potentially below normal precipitation across the far Eastern Plains, still slight probability for what favors above normal precipitation over Northwest New Mexico, into much of Arizona equal chances in between. Uh, later today, as of later on July 15th, we should see the three to four week precipitation outlook get updated as of July 8th, that shall still show above normal precipitation being favored along the Arizona New Mexico border extending into central New Mexico and much of Arizona.

[00:06:00] So yet still some, some reason for optimism, particularly if you live further west in New Mexico, into parts of Arizona. 

[00:06:08] Tonya Bernadt: Curtis. I'm wondering if there's a good website to check how much rain we have had during July so far. 

[00:06:13] Curtis Riganti: Yeah. There's several places that you can find that type of information, Tonya. My favorite one to look for that information is the CoCoRaHS website.

[00:06:22] So you can go to And you can select a range of dates that you'd like to see precipitation data from. And the nice thing about CoCoRaHS is that it is a community based precipitation reporting system, and you can become an observer if you want to as well. So there are ways to get involved with that.

[00:06:49] If you live in an area where there aren't any observations, you can volunteer to provide those observations. But yeah, so that's a good resource of the High Plains Regional Climate Center. That's You can also pull up precipitation statistics from there. And then finally the National Weather Services AHPS or AHPS system.

[00:07:16] You can look at radar and weather station based precipitation estimates on there, and that's a grided system. And you can find that at 

[00:07:30] Tonya Bernadt: Thank you, Curtis those sound like wonderful resources. I might check into CoCoRaHS and see about doing that around my house. So I appreciate that information. 

[00:07:41] Caiti Steele: Yes, that's really helpful. And we'll put those URLs, those websites and the information on the podcast page. So you can find them if you're interested to go look and I'd like to add to the CoCoRaHS comments that if you would like to become a CoCoRaHS observer, please feel free to contact me.

[00:08:02] And I can send you a gauge, so you don't even need to pay for your gauge. 

[00:08:07] Tonya Bernadt: So we're gonna hand it over to Julie Elliott, Rangeland Management Specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and liaison to the Northern Plains Climate Hub. She's gonna update us on the Grass-Cast forecast.

[00:08:21] Julie Elliott: Thanks, Tonya. Let's start by reminding the listeners what Grass-Cast is. Grass-Cast is a production forecast, total forage production at the end of the year. So it is not giving us a picture of how much production is out there right now, but how much we expect there to be at the end of the growing season. Grass-Cast uses three forecasts. It, an above average precipitation forecast, a near normal precipitation forecast and a below normal precipitation forecast.

[00:08:54] And those scenarios are created by stacking the last 38 years of precipitation wettest to driest using the wettest third to make the above average precipitation forecast, the driest third to make the below average precipitation forecast. And those middle remaining years create the scenario for the near normal precipitation forecast.

[00:09:18] With that groundwork out of the way, let's take a look at the forecast maps that were made July 12th released on July 14th on the Grass-Cast website, Overall, the Southern Great Plains intensity of forage losses increased with the notable exception of Southeast Colorado, where they're actually seeing some decrease in losses. But note I say decrease in losses, they're still seeing a loss. We'll start with Texas. All the counties in the Grass-Cast forecast area are looking at a loss from five to greater than 30%. The only exceptions are Lipscomb, Hemphill and Wheeler counties and those counties bordering those three counties on the west, which may see an increase in production over the long term average. In Oklahoma Washita, Caddo, Grady, Canadian, and the south half of Blaine counties are above to near average production with above to near average precipitation.

[00:10:20] Below average precipitation Washita and Blaine county. You fall to five to 15% below. Much of the rest of the state is not optimistic even with increased precipitation. So most of Oklahoma you're looking at some pretty tough times based on the Grass-Cast map. For Kansas, the Southwest quarter four counties can be optimistic with increased average precipitation.

[00:10:43] Much even with near normal precipitation, but the rest of the Southern Plains area in Kansas, you folks ought to be implementing a drought plan because no matter what the precipitation is, grass-Cast is forecasting a significant production lost. For the Southeast corner of Colorado, even with increased precipitation production at best is near normal and moves into 15 to 30% production loss with below normal precipitation.

[00:11:12] Remember, Grass-Cast cannot account for carryover losses from previous years. So any of these areas where I'm suggesting the Grass-Cast is predicting an increase in production or even near normal or some level of losses, if you suffered a severe drought impact last year, that carryover effect is going to be seen this year.

[00:11:36] Even if you are having decent precipitation. For Eastern New Mexico, on the Great Plains map that we wanna recap that Eastern New Mexico, you get two forecasts. You have one that's included in the Great Plains map, which is assuming one growing season that starts early in the year, carries through the summer and closes somewhere in September or October. 

[00:11:59] Eastern new Mexico's also included in the Southwest forecast maps. Listeners might remember that the Southwest forecast maps are assuming two growing seasons. One in the spring that has a more or less hard stop at the end of May and then starts over the first part of June and runs through the rest of the summer.

[00:12:18] So Eastern New Mexico take what I'm saying with a grain of salt. You first have to decide, do you have one continuous growing season starts in the spring, the spring grasses gradate into the summer grasses and then gradate back into to the spring or cool season grasses, if you have a good fall. Or do you have a distinct spring growing season and a distinct summer growing season?

[00:12:42] So we're first gonna talk about Eastern New Mexico as part of the Great Plains map. Sorry, you're just not looking good. Even with above precipitation. There's lots of even greater than 30% for Southeast Quay and upper Curry counties. The exception is the very Northeast corner of Union county and all of Lea county with above average precipitation. Somehow you folks have obviously picked up some rains.

[00:13:11] The very Southern quarter of Lea county stays looking very good with increased of 30% or more with above average precipitation. Although the bottom does fall outta Lea county if we get below average precipitation with losses of 15 to 30%. So right now, even as late as we are into the growing season, based on the Grass-Cast model of, for the Great Plains with one growing season, Lea county, you're suffering this, the fate of extreme extremes, the very best are the very worst of life. For the Southwest maps, overall, there's not quite as much optimism for greater than 15% increases in production with above average, to near average precipitation. The low precipitation average for west two thirds of New Mexico is more optimistic, but the Eastern border losses are intensifying.

[00:14:05] Let's zoom in on New Mexico. Curry and Quay county, you're the epicenter with even near normal precipitation. You're suffering 15 to 30% reductions in production and surrounding counties from the Northern two-thirds of Lea angling Northwest to most of De Baca and then back Northeast across the north border of Quay county are also forecasted to have five to 15% below average production.

[00:14:32] The Southwest quarter of Eddy is also predicted to see losses. Below normal precipitation expands those impacted areas to the border of Eddy north, to the Colorado border. Again, with that exception of Southeast Lea counties, it's set in pretty good. Luna, Dona Ana and Eastern Sierra counties see losses with below average precipitation. 

[00:14:54] Moving over to the west to Arizona. Your forecast ranges from five to more than 30% more production with above average precipitation. The exceptions are the very Southern end of Apache county, and along the Southeast Coconino border. Moving to near normal precipitation, the Southern half of Mojave and the Northwest quarter of Yavapai drop into the five to 15% production with low average precipitation. Apache and Coconino county, you hold onto it, but the rest of the counties continue to drop in the predicted overall production. Below normal precipitation, only Yuma and Southwest Maricopa, Northwest Pima and Southwest Cochise county and the central east border of Apache county. And then a few small scattered patches through the state hold onto that near normal production.

[00:15:47] Everyone else moves five to 15% less or worse with epicenters in the Northwest Yavapai and central Pima counties. 

[00:15:55] Caiti Steele: So I have a question for you, Julie, I'm a bit curious about Lea county in the very Southeastern corner of New Mexico, where you've got this blue blob. When we look at the Great plains map, what we can see in Texas is like less production.

[00:16:11] It seems that this prediction almost stops at the county line. Is that an artifact of the map or are we really seeing some data here? 

[00:16:21] Julie Elliott: There some real data here, because if you, if you zoom in on Lea county there, you can see that there is a little border on the Eastern side where that super great production dies off and it starts fading down into less production as we go into Texas. There's a few grid cells in Texas bordering Lea county, where production is near normal to slightly above, but it rapidly drops as you go farther east into Texas. So I would guess if we predicted farther down into Texas, Caiti, that we would see that big blue blob moving south, at least a few grid cells before it drops out. There must have been a heck of a thunderstorm there, or several thunderstorms that had developed in that area that have just filled up the soil profile.

[00:17:09] Caiti Steele: Thank you. 

[00:17:10] Tonya Bernadt: Julie. I can see from the Southwest map that it's still a bit of a wild card in central to Southern Arizona. Would you recommend that these folks remain cautiously optimistic or should they be more cautiously pessimistic? 

[00:17:25] Julie Elliott: Yeah, that's the 10 million question isn't it, Tonya. Is it gonna be better or is it going to be worse. From a, from I'll put on my range management hat from a range management perspective, I would encourage folks to remain cautiously pessimistic, because it's always easier to adapt to good conditions than it is to adapt to poor conditions.

[00:17:48] If things turn out better than expected, you can leave the livestock on longer. Maybe you can take in some livestock, pick up on some drought sales from the rest of the region. Uh, maybe even just leave the forage a little higher this year so that you have more protection over the wintertime. If you stay cautiously optimistic and then things go south.

[00:18:11] Now, all of a sudden you've got to make some big changes that can have large impacts on your bank account and reverberating effects through the rest of your operation that are harder to absorb and adapt to than the better conditions. This is still just the third map of the growing season. So the forecasts are funneling in.

[00:18:35] They're getting tighter. As I mentioned, they're, they're a little less optimistic on the good areas and a little more pessimistic on the bad areas. So the next map I would expect that that's, we're gonna have some pretty decent information to, to start making some real decisions on. But again, I would encourage folks to look a little more on the right hand side of the maps, or if you're looking at the maps or the below average precipitation scenario, then to bank on having above average precipitation and then having someone pull the rug out from under you and having to figure out what you're gonna do.

[00:19:12] Tonya Bernadt: Thank you again to Curtis and Julie for shedding, some light on how to interpret seasonal outlooks from the Weather Service and Grass-Cast. We'll be back in a couple of weeks to see how the seasonal outlooks may have changed and to check out what the Grass-Cast maps are showing us. 

[00:19:28] Caiti Steele: Thanks again for joining us. If you have questions, comments, or requests, again, please feel free to reach out to us via the podcast page. We'd be very happy to hear from you and fingers crossed. We'll get some rain between now and next time.

[00:19:44] This podcast is brought to you by the Southwest Drought Learning Network, National Drought Mitigation Center, Agro-Ecosystem Resilience in times of Drought, the Sustainable Southwest Beef Project, the Southwest Climate Hub and the Northern Plains Climate Hub. Thanks for listening.