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Old man winter has arrived

The pheasants have seen a lot less bare ground this winter than they had grown accustomed to. Photo by Carrie Stadheim

“Right now, conditions are what they call neutral,” said South Dakota’s fire meteorologist Darren Clabo. He looks ahead at possible moisture and temperatures to determine fire danger for South Dakota, said regarding the two “opposite” weather patterns “El Nino” and “La Nina.” He explained that neither of those activities is affecting weather currently and likely they won’t for the next few months. The name for the current weather situation is ENSO – El Nino Southern Oscillation, which is the pattern that constitutes the shifting between the two weather patterns. “This is unfortunate for forecasters because we like to look at these weather patterns to have something to grab information from.” The lack of activity, he said, lends to a decreased confidence in long term forecasts.

The cold snaps Tri-State Livestock News readers have noticed throughout the fall are due to the location of the jet stream, Clabo explained. “This fall we’ve had a very active upper level jet stream. So we’ll have three or four days of nice sunny weather and then the upper level trough (storm system) comes through and temperatures plummet,” he said. Clabo explained that when the jet stream is located to the south, the region north of it experiences cold weather.

According to the Climate Prediction Center, ENSO neutral conditions should continue through next summer. This basically suggests average oceanic water temperature. Beyond the next six months is difficult to know, he explained.

Clabo, who works as an instructor in the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences in the S.D. School of Mines and Technology explained the differences between El Nino and La Nina.

“El Nino and La Nina are two different phenomena that occur in equatorial Pacific Ocean.” While El Nino and La Nina have become more well known, Clabo said there are actually many warming, cooling and other patterns affecting worldwide weather. “There are a lot of other oceanic oscillations. Something is working all the time. You try to parse out details of each one as well as you can to determine upcoming weather patterns in this region.

El Nino, he explained, is a warming of equatorial pacific ocean – off the western coast of South America.

La Nina is just the opposite. She amounts to cooler than usual temperatures off coast of South America in the equatorial position.

What does this mean for the Tri-State Livestock News region? “El Nino causes cooler than average summers with no predictable higher or lower than average precipitation. La Nina tends to produce summers with temperatures around the “climatalogical average” and less moisture.

Clabo that while the fall has seemed cooler than normal, we are not dealing with one of the weather patterns discussed earlier.

He also explained that predicting weather patterns three to eight months out is a challenge for all forecasters. “We can predict seven days with pretty high accuracy and we can get these climate forecasts 10 or 20 years out but the middle of the road is a lot more difficult.”

“Everyone’s asking me what next summer is going to be like. All of the predictive services thought the summer of 2013 was going to be a drought summer and obviously it wasn’t. Seasonal forecasting is difficult.”

Right now, his best estimation for the coming months is that “everything is trending toward average precipitation through the winter.” Clabo agrees it has been “cooler than average” over the last month. “So we tend to stretch those patterns. Since it has been cold it will likely be cold into the beginning of January. Beyond that we are trending toward an average winter for precipitation and temperature,” he said.

Even through spring the signs are pointing to a “pretty average” weather pattern, whatever that is. “Average” means that the likelihood of higher than average or lower than average temperatures or precipitation are about the same, he explained.

El Niño was originally recognized by fisherman off the coast of South America as the appearance of unusually warm water in the Pacific ocean, occurring near the beginning of the year. El Niño means The Little Boy or Christ child in Spanish. This name was used for the tendency of the phenomenon to arrive around Christmas, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The organization also states that El Ninos occurred in 1986-1987, 1991-1992, 1993, 1994, 1997-1998. It is unusual for El Niños to occur in such rapid succession, as has been the case during 1990-1994, said the NOAA.

The NOAA said previous cold phases caused by La Nina occurred in: 1904, 1908, 1910, 1916, 1924, 1928, 1938, 1950, 1955, 1964, 1970, 1973, 1975, 1988, 1995. F


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