According to the National Weather Service, the winter of 2015-16 will be regulated by a strong El Nino ocean current. The forecast from the NWS is that the winter of 2015-16 will be colder and wetter than the average for the state of Florida. From past experience we know that prolonged cold, above average rainfall, and excessive cloudy weather has the potential to be disastrous for Florida Golf Courses.
El Niño is defined by prolonged warming in the Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures when compared with the average value. Typically, this anomaly happens at irregular intervals of two to seven years, and lasts nine months to two years. This year’s El Nino is predicted to be the strongest in the past 75 years.
The last strong El Nino experienced in the state of Florida was the winter of 1997. The winter of 1997 was basically a conveyor belt for cold fronts and storms, many of which were deadly. The winter of 1997 was also a winter in which several Florida golf courses had significant turf loss due to the weather conditions.
During an El Nino year, the southern jet stream is much stronger than it normally would be, and the storm track moves across the southern tier of the U.S. As we look at the winter as a whole (December through March), I expect that the final numbers will show below average temperatures across much of the South.
Precipitation Overall, Winter 2015-16
Nearly all past El Niño winters have featured an active storm track across the southern United States. It looks like that pattern will dominate our winter this year as well. Therefore, we expect above-average precipitation from Southern California to Florida and up to the East Coast to Maine. This will likely include a higher threat for severe weather near the Gulf Coast, including Florida.
We received 10 inches of rain in December with the average being 2.19 inches. The first week of January, we received 3.5 inches of rain I write this article. The normal average for January is 2.7 inches for the whole month. I’m not trying to be a doomsayer, but taking into consideration of the wet summer and cloudy wet fall. These conditions will produce shallower roots, thinner turf canopy and our turf is more disease prone compared to a normal year. I’ve taken precautions and have raised the greens to the highest I’ve ever had them. I will be venting the greens which means solid tining/spiking greens weekly as well as topdressing to help dry out and add oxygen to the soil profile. My main goal is keep the turf healthy, so green speeds will not be the goal this year. So fasten your seat belts and hold on, I believe this winter is going to be a challenge, but a challenge I relish!