Weather experts forecast cooler fall
September 8, 2014
Fall crop and cattle work is just around the corner, and producers across the region are, as always, discussing what could happen weather-wise in months ahead. For many, the old adages of, "if you grow it you'll feed it," or, "the snow will be as deep as the clover was high," are causing some concern that a repeat of last fall and winter may be one flip away on the wall calendar.
Wyoming and South Dakota meteorologists and climatologists continuously study global weather conditions to provide accurate local weather forecasts. Based on current trends and information, they believe 2014 is setting up to go out more like a lamb after coming in like a lion for many parts of the West.
"During spring and early summer the long range forecaster meteorologists were torn between two scenarios for El Nino," said Day Weather meteorologist Mark Heuer of Cheyenne, Wyo. "Some were forecasting a strong to even a super El Nino, while others felt it would be along the moderate to perhaps strong scenario. How things have actually transpired with sea surface temperatures on the Pacific is they have not warmed as much as expected, and as of late July they are now forecasting either a neutral year between El Nino and La Nina, or a weak El Nino year."
Based on the weather conditions that have transpired to-date, Heuer predicts a more temperate fall with average to slightly below average temperatures and the typical progression of early season storms.
Rapid City, S.D. National Weather Service meteorologist Susan Sanders agreed that fall could easily see the continuation of what have been slightly below normal temperatures throughout what she deemed a weak El Nino summer.
"June, July, and so far August have all been three degrees below normal, so we have been consistently cooler all summer. The Rapid City Airport has had 15.28 inches of precipitation through Aug. 12, which is 3.5 inches above normal for the year. Even a weak El Nino system could see that increased moisture continue into later summer and early fall," she said.
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However, Sanders further explained that typically an El Nino summer results in a slightly warmer and drier winter than normal, leading to the possibility of a shift in conditions in the latter months of 2014 based on the year's conditions so far.
Prior to the hypothesized shift, Sanders predicts a better chance of below normal temperatures through October, particularly for South Dakota, North Dakota, eastern Montana and Wyoming and most of Nebraska. The Four Corners area up through Wyoming has a chance for above-normal precipitation during the same timeframe, with western South Dakota sitting right on the edge of average and above average precipitation through early fall.
"We also hear the question of if there is the possibility of another unseasonably wet, cold, severe blizzard or winter storm such as what impacted the Dakotas, Nebraska, Wyoming, and eastern Montana last October. Unfortunately, the ability to forecast any specific storm or the increase in probability for systems like that is not possible just because storms like that only come around once every few to several decades. We do not foresee terribly active or unseasonably active winter storms, and it would be a slim chance of having a repeat performance. But, to say it can't or won't happen would be foolish," said Heuer.
In response to the question of whether or not the upcoming winter will be a total repeat of last year's bitter cold and frequent storms, Heuer was able to make a more confident prediction.
"With the region being between El Nino and La Nina we should not have the prolonged and also at times severe cold like we saw last winter. Last summer and fall saw us coming out of a good La Nina year, and that allowed the polar jet stream to make frequent and prolonged appearances across western Canada, and down into the northern Rockies and Plains regions. Even with the chance we foresee of some below average temperatures in upcoming months, and possibility early frosts and freezes in areas farther north such as North Dakota, we just aren't seeing the large amounts of early season cold air pooling over the North Pole that would result in another winter like last years," said Heuer.
Sanders added that regardless of the general trend of the year, the chances of the entire region missing out on a winter storm or two is unheard-of, and encouraged people to keep an eye on local weather conditions regularly.
"It's a lot more important to keep an eye on the day-to-day weather forecasts and conditions. Normally if a storm does develop, we are able to provide that in a forecast at least a couple days ahead of time. Just as a reminder, if we put out a winter storm watch, that means there is the potential for heavy snow and blizzard conditions. If it's a winter storm warning, that means we are a lot more confident those conditions will happen," she said.
Heuer added that meteorologists and climatologists will have increased confidence in their long range winter forecasts in another four to six weeks, at which time the ongoing observations of the Pacific sea temperature trends will add more clarity to what winter weather conditions for farmers and ranchers in western states will be as 2014 bows out.