With Southwest weather outlooks, even good news comes with caveats, maybes and big ifs.

“We usually come bearing bad news,” admits Amy McCullough, science and operations officer, National Weather Service, San Angelo.

McCullough, addressing the Big County Wheat Conference Thursday in Abilene, Texas, offered a glimmer of hope for a moisture-starved region. “Today, I have a slightly different outlook,” she told the nearly 200 participants in the event sponsored every other year by the Taylor County AgriLife Extension Service. “Maybe we have some good news.”

That good news centers on the likelihood of an El Niño developing in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, off the west coast of South America. But even that possibility comes with a few ifs and buts.

For instance, just several weeks back forecasters were looking at what they thought would be a “robust” El Niño developing for fall.

“From June 8 through July 15 we were watching the waters in the Pacific warm up off the coast of South America,” McCullough said. Forecasters, at that time, “had a strong hope for an El Niño” and the increased possibility for milder temperatures and more rainfall for the Southwest.

A recent weakening of the warming trend reduced the possibility somewhat.

“But last week we began to see El Niño trying to rebuild,” McCullough said. She said probability of an El Niño forming is now set at about 66 percent. “So we’re still hopeful.”

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Forecasters expect no real change until late fall or early winter, however. “From November through January, we see positive indications for El Niño, but we don’t anticipate any real effect this fall. It’s mostly a winter effect in the San Angelo area.”

If the phenomenon does materialize, the Texas Rolling Plains could see “above normal” precipitation this winter. “But normal winter precipitation is low,” McCullough said, so the change may not be significant.