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The cloudy and rainy December we observed in Florida and nearby areas of the Southeast was only the beginning of what has turned out to be one of the strongest El Niño cycles most of us have ever seen. A few months ago, it was still up in the air about the ultimate strength of the warming cycle being observed along the equatorial Pacific Ocean, and it was about a 50-50 chance for either a moderate or strong El Niño.

Now that we are into February it is clear that the strong El Niño won the day. That was unfortunate for most turfgrass managers here in the Southeast because sunshine was a rare sight and turfgrass growth and recovery became almost nonexistent. As Darren Davis, superintendent of the Olde Florida Golf Club, explains in his recent blog post “How Does Turfgrass Eat?” without sunshine turfgrass literally starves to death. With less than a handful of sunny days over the course of this Super El Niño many courses saw a decline in turfgrass density.

In my recent update “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of El Niño” I provided a number of tips to help combat the lack of sunshine and increased precipitation. The method I saw most often in the field was to keep putting green mowing heights a little above normal and either skip mowings or replace them with rolling. The green speeds may have dropped a little bit but the greens were much better off.

Luckily, there appears to be an end in sight as the sun has been out the last few days and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a transition over to a neutral phase around May. This will likely be replaced by a La Niña phase around July so be on the lookout for a reversal of weather conditions around that time.

Southeast Region Agronomists:

Chris Hartwiger, director, Agronomy –

Jordan Booth, Ph.D., director, USGA Course Consulting Service –

John Rowland, Ph.D., agronomist –

Chris Neff, agronomist –

Information on the USGA’s Course Consulting Service

Contact the Green Section Staff