Cold, wet climate outlook for early spring 2018

SDSU Extension
Farm Forum

BROOKINGS — Colder and wetter than average conditions are possible across northern South Dakota, according to the January 18, 2018 National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center Seasonal Outlook.

“The three-month outlook, shows colder than average temperatures are likely in the northern and eastern regions of South Dakota,” said Laura Edwards, SDSU Extension state climatologist.

Edwards explained this is consistent with La Nina’s typical winter pattern in the region, which often brings colder than average temperatures across the northern states in the winter season.

“South Dakotans have been spoiled with some warm winters in the last few years,” she said. “We have had some cold periods this winter, but fortunately each cold period has been shortlived.”

Precipitation outlook

The precipitation outlook for February through April is less certain for South Dakota, however.

“The northwest corner of the state has slightly better odds of wetter than average conditions,” Edwards said. “This could help improve the lingering drought conditions in the area.”

Overall, Edwards said the national climate outlook is very similar to a typical La Nina pattern, which favors wetter conditions in the northern Rockies and Great Lakes regions.

In the near term, however, she said the month of February has less certainty in both temperature and precipitation outlooks.

“Currently, there is a lot of variability in the computer models for the month ahead. This had led the forecasters to show equal chances of warmer or colder and wetter or drier conditions across South Dakota,” Edwards said.

As of January 18, in many areas of the state, snowfall has been below average.

“This is a growing concern for winter wheat producers, who rely on snow cover to protect their crop from temperature extremes in the winter season,” Edwards said. “Snow cover can insulate the crop from extreme cold temperatures, but also provide protection from freeze and thaw cycles during warm periods.”

With 90 percent of South Dakota ranking as either abnormally dry or in drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Edwards said snowfall would also be beneficial to help replenish soil moisture.

“The winter season is usually our dry season, but temperatures and snowfall during the winter are important to the start of the growing season. South Dakota experienced that last year with an early drought that had a huge impact in the state,” Edwards said. “Snowmelt in the spring also helps with replenishing stock ponds and water for livestock.”

Edwards added that despite ample snowfall last winter, the warm temperatures in February of 2017 likely contributed to the development of the drought conditions last spring.

“The next couple of months will greatly impact the start of the growing season — for better or for worse,” she said.

Precipitation outlook for February through April 2018. Northwestern South Dakota has slightly better odds of wetter than average conditions in the next three months. Courtesy of