2013 climate review: A year that stands out in memory

Farm Forum

BROOKINGS — The most notable 2013 weather event was – undoubtedly the early October blizzard which raged across the western part of South Dakota causing a devastating impact on many ranchers as well as damaging large amounts of electrical infrastructure in the west.

When Dennis Todey, SDSU State Climatologist reflects on the blizzard and other weather events of 2013 he said it was a year that stands out in recent memory.

“2013 provided some huge contrasts to the drought year of 2012 across the state,” Todey said. “For example, the October blizzard dropped a very large amount of moisture during a usually dry time of year.”

He added that precipitation totals from the blizzard were quite large – in some cases more than 5 inches of liquid – adding to some record-setting totals found across the northwest part of the state in Perkins, Harding and Lawrence Counties.

According to National Weather Service Cooperative Observer data, Todey said in these counties at least four locations set record annual precipitation totals. Three of the totals from Lead, Lemmon and Ludlow, obliterated previous records beating them by 5-8 inches, amounting to about twice the average annual precipitation at some locations.

“Average precipitation in this area is around 16-18 inches, indicating how extreme these totals were,” Todey said. “The precipitation overcame some carry-over drought issues from the 2012 drought. Some flooding occurred during a very atypical time of year.” The storm totals from the blizzard exacerbated the moist conditions that were already present from a very wet period that had started in May.

The preliminary total from Lead set an additional record being the largest annual precipitation total ever recorded in the state. For the year they totaled 49.52 inches of liquid. Nearby Deadwood held the previous record at 48.42 inches in 1946. This is a preliminary total because the record is undergoing review by a state-federal climate extremes committee to confirm the record.

He added that the record precipitation is in keeping with a statewide trend of increasing precipitation.

“Despite the 2012 drought, the overall trend statewide is to increased precipitation totals,” he said. “Having 30-plus inches of precipitation in western South Dakota outside the Black Hills is a clear indication of change in precipitation occurring,” he said.

Another contrast found when reviewing the year’s data, Todey said, is temperatures.

“While most people probably remember the very warm humid conditions in the late summer, particularly during the back to school time, they masked an overall cool year statewide,” he said.

The cool conditions occurred not only in the recent December data, but in the late spring and early summer.

“Cool and somewhat wet conditions slowed the planting season in the late spring. The cool conditions carried-over into the early summer. Statewide April was the second coldest in history setting a number of local station records, also,” Todey said.

Data showed that several locations ranked in the top 10 coolest years on record including Flandreau, White Lake and Academy as a few examples. Most of the colder stations were in the eastern half of the state. Annual temperature records are largely impacted by how long the station has been active and by any missing data.

The cold climate pattern appears to be holding steady over the northern states for at least the first couple of weeks of January, getting 2014 off to a cool start. Snowfall and precipitation remains relatively uncertain, as climate forecasts continue to project equal chances of dry or wet conditions in the coming month for most of the state.

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