Winter weather outlook fuzzy for parts of SD

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By Elisa Sand

The winter weather outlook for South Dakota remains a little unsettled.

Months to come could be colder than average in the north part of the state, and the west could be wetter than normal, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center winter forecast issued this week.

But much of South Dakota remains in a mystery zone, as Mother Nature’s mood can be hard to predict.

A second winter outlook will be released Nov. 16, but for now weather predictions are based on a mild La Niña system.

Mike Connelly, National Weather Service meteorologist, said the La Niña system essentially sets the patters for the jet stream, pulling it farther south. That means a higher potential for colder temperatures.

In South Dakota, winter conditions have a tendency to go back and forth between extremes, Connelly said, but the factor that will really set the tone for the winter is whether there is early snow.

“A lot depends on whether or not we get some snow cover,” he said. “It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon.”

When snow coats the ground early, the white surface reflects the sun and temperatures tend to be colder.

In a news conference Thursday, Mike Halpert, deputy director of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, said temperatures and conditions are reminiscent of 2016, with warmer-than-normal temperatures predicted for the southern two-thirds of the U.S., but it doesn’t mean there will be a repeat of record warm temperatures experienced in those areas.

“It would be quite surprising to see a third warm winter in a row,” he said.

Last year, polar vortex systems struck different parts of the region, including South Dakota, carrying with them prolonged colder temperatures. In South Dakota, that was in December. But Halpert said it’s too early to tell if those systems will hit because they are short-term weather events that generally can’t be predicted more than a week or two in advance.

“If we saw them we wouldn’t be favoring above-average temperatures,” Halpert said.

NOAA drought forecaster David Miskus said recent precipitation has helped ease some of the drought conditions from earlier this year. Snow cover will help add additional moisture to the ground, but the cold temperatures also put the ground in hibernation mode.

“Spring and summer rain will really determine drought conditions next year,” Miskus said.

Halpert said the forecast is just that — a possibility based on all the known weather conditions and patterns at this time. If the strength of the La Niña system changes, weather patterns could also change.

“It doesn’t appear the La Niña would be any stronger than a weak system,” Halpert said. “Should it develop more in the next month, we would be more confident and boost our probabilities.”

As it sits, the western half of South Dakota has a more-than-33-percent chance of having a wetter-than-normal winter, and the northern edge of the state has a more-than-33-percent chance of temperatures being colder than normal.

Other parts of the state, he said, have equal chances at either extreme.

Follow @ElisaSand_aan on Twitter.

Temperature predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center.
Precipitation predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center.