Historical daily thermal and precipitation data from selected stations across the United States are composited into climate scenarios for the three phases of ENSO: Warm Events (El Niño), Cold Events (El Viejo or La Niña), and Neutral. Using these scenarios, yields of 7 field crops were simulated using the EPIC biophysical model during the one-year period coincident with maximum SST anomalies in the equatorial Pacific. The response of simulated agricultural productivity to the ENSO-related climate-variability parameters, is presented. A sensitivity calculation confirms the relevance of precipitation totals/medians and suggests ENSO-related yields are sensitive to changes in statistical properties characterizing precipitation distribution and occurrence. Results are spatially dependent, with the southwest and northern plains regions indicating the highest sensitivity to the inclusion of additional precipitation characteristics. The southeast yields are not as sensitive. The yield deviations (expressed as normalized differences to neutral yields) associated with the two extreme ENSO phases (Warm Events and Cold Events) are spatially and crop dependent with ranges up to ±120%. The largest yield deviations are in the south, southwest, and northern plains. Overall, Cold Events demonstrate larger impacts in the southern regions and Warm Events have a larger impact in the north. Additionally, the notion that climate anomalies associated with Cold and Warm Events and subsequent impacts on yields should be of opposite sign (i.e., linear) is not valid in many regions. For the eastern half of the U.S., modeled yield deviations under Warm Event conditions are nearly all less than neutral. Conversely, in the western half, results are more mixed. Under Cold Event conditions, yields in the east are enhanced in the south, but worsened in the north; while in the western half, yields have decreased in general. The results highlight the critical role of climate and production-related data on station or county levels in quantifying the impact of ENSO climate anomalies on yields. Both the diverse nature of the ENSO-related yield deviations as well as their sensitivity to monthly frequency distribution and occurrence characteristics imply that ENSO-related seasonal precipitation forecasts might be beneficial for agricultural application only if details were provided regarding not only totals, but also predicted changes in temporal and spatial variability of a more comprehensive suite of characteristics.
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Legler, D.M., Bryant, K.J. & O'Brien, J.J. Impact of ENSO-Related Climate Anomalies on Crop Yields in the U.S.. Climatic Change 42, 351–375 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1005401101129