What kind of winter can we expect this year?
Apparently, that all depends on whether La Niña shows up as predicted.
La Niña is a weather pattern that happens due to cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures. For the Dakotas, this means our weather will tend to come from the northwest along a polar jet stream.
And the word “polar” should give you a clue as to what’s expected if our weather is riding that jet stream: frigid temps and heavy snowfall.
La Niña was expected to show up after an El Niño pattern ended this summer. That didn’t happen then, and meteorologists were starting to think it might not happen at all.
But now sea surface temperatures are becoming cooler than average after all. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now says there is a 70 percent chance that La Niña will arrive for the winter.
It’s not likely to be a very strong La Niña, however, which could mean fewer extremes of cold or snow than a typical La Niña.
A FEW WORDS OF WEATHER WISDOM
Don’t put your faith in the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Dennis Todey, director for the Midwest Hub of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, refutes the validity of predictions by references such as the 225-year-old Old Farmer’s Almanac, which mostly rely on history and ambiguity to predict future weather events.
“Many almanacs claim great skill, but do not report how they make their outlooks,” Todey noted. “They are written so generally in their descriptions that they can be interpreted as correct no matter what happens.”
Pattern prediction: Climate change means warmer winters overall.
Climate change will be a big factor in future winter weather.
“Our winters are warming,” Todey said. “The frost-free season is getting longer. We still get storms and blizzards, but the overall trend is warmer winters.”
Last winter was one of the warmest ever in South Dakota, in 121 years of record-keeping.
Warmer winters have benefits in terms of human comfort, and can also mean longer growing seasons for farmers. But more pests may survive in warmer winters, and more precipitation may delay planting in the spring.
—Derek Keeling and Heidi Marttila-Losure