Apple growers look to the moon for outlook clues

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Apple growers look to the moon for outlook clues

USApple’s Weather Outlook for 2024 explored dominant weather features expected to affect apple growers across the United States. Most notably, the session analyzed insights into 18-year lunar nodal cycle patterns, which could mean abrasive weather this season. 

Drew Lerner, senior agricultural meteorologist at World Weather INC, explained how El Niño, La Niña, and other cyclical weather patterns affect apple production in North America. 

The meteorologist focused on patterns from 18-year lunar cycles, expected to be the most influential part of the weather forecast this summer. The climatic response results from variations in the angle of the moon’s orbital plane, which drives changes in ocean tides and other phenomena.

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According to Lerner, winter 2023-24’s data looked much like the winters of 1969-70, 1987-88 and 2005-06. 

“What this tells you is that we have a good signal in the 18-year pattern that we can use as a proxy for what might happen as we move forward through the growing season ahead,” Lerner explained. 

He said 2005-06 was the year most similar to the current season’s weather pattern. The forecast anticipates a mix of weather for the far western United States in spring, dry weather in the Northeast, and a wet autumn in areas like California, which may lead to a delay in harvest. 

“It is important to always remember that we’re taking past years and averaging them together,” Lerner explained. “We believe this is the right trend to go on.” 

Other influential cycles

El Niño and La Niña are opposing climate patterns in the Pacific Ocean. El Niño pushes warm water east towards the West Coast of the Americas, causing dryer and warmer weather in the Northern U.S. and Canada and wetter periods in the U.S. Gulf Coast and Southeast. 

La Niña has the opposite effect, pushing more warm waters towards Asia and causing droughts in the Southern U.S., as well as heavy rains and flooding in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. According to the National Ocean Service, “During a La Niña year, winter temperatures are warmer than normal in the South and cooler than normal in the North.”

Lerner explained that El Niño will likely completely dissipate by the end of this month but we’re potentially moving into La Niña. 

“Both of these events are probably not going to have a big influence on the majority of our key apple production areas,” he said. “I think most of the influence from La Niña is likely to end up being focused mostly on areas in the central part of the country.” 

He said that parts of the country like the U.S. Plains and portions of the Midwest like Missouri will likely experience issues with dryness and excessive heat. 

Lerner said, officially, the forecast for April and May should provide good weather for most apple production areas in the nation, except in the central states.

“The only potential problem is that period in the last ten days in April, where we do have at least the risk of some colder weather,” he explained. “How cold it gets is quite debatable, but I think once we get into the first week of May, if we have not seen a frost or freeze event, I think we’ll be free from that point onward.”  

The United States ranks 4th among apple exporters, after Italy, China, and Poland. Apple production in the country is forecast up 56,000 tons, thanks to good weather growing conditions in Washington.

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