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Will the wet years be followed by drought in 2012?

Producers can expect drier-than-normal conditions this spring, according to weather outlooks for the next couple of months.

“Less-than-normal precipitation across the Canadian Prairies ahead of the winter freeze-up have already left soil conditions on the drier side,” said Drew Lerner, with World Weather Inc. of Kansas City.

The absence of significant snowfall and above-average temperatures across Western Canada likely means “it’s going to be a tough year” in some regions, he said. The situation is most acute in Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan, Lerner said, with Alberta’s Peace River region also on the dry side.

Colder weather is expected by the third week of January or early February, and that transition could generate snowfall, he said. However, Lerner added he is concerned a drop in temperatures could create conditions that force the jet stream down into the U.S., which could perpetuate the dry spell as that could prevent major storm activity that could provide much-needed moisture.

“It all comes down to the Arctic Oscillation pattern,” Lerner said. “I am expecting a negative Arctic Oscillation during the second half of the winter in Western Canada.”

If that doesn’t happen, the Prairies are more likely to see a better mix of weather during the remainder of the winter.

“Producers in Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan should probably take a defensive stance in preparing for a dry season and consider crops that are better performers in this kind of environment,” Lerner said.

In west and central regions of Saskatchewan, dry conditions will prevail at seeding time, but good precipitation is anticipated during the summer, he said.

“It’s definitely going to be dicey for the producers at seeding time, but their crops should see a lot of good rain in the heart of the summer,” Lerner said.

If La Nia prevails over the whole of the summer, then the southeast portion of the Prairies was really going to “take it on the chin,” in terms of being dry, he said.

Lerner said it’s normal to have a dry spell after a couple of years of above-average moisture, and conditions are, so far, pointing in that direction.

The lack of snow cover has producers with winter wheat or fall rye fearing a cold snap will cause winterkill damage. Recent grass fires in southern Alberta are also an indication of the dry conditions that currently exist.

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