Winter outlook unpleasant

2013 has been the wettest year on record in many locations in North Dakota, Minot included. If recent snowfall is any indication, there may not be much relief from moisture this winter either.

Snowfall thus far in December, measured at the North Central Research and Extension Center immediately south of Minot, totaled 4.8 inches as of 8 a.m. Wednesday. According to the National Weather Service, the 96-year average at the Minot Airport for December is 7.6 inches. With more than three weeks remaining in the month, there is ample time to add to the snowfall total. More moisture though, in any form, won’t be surprising in what has become an extremely wet, record-breaking year.

According to Jim Tarasenko at the Research and Extension Center, precipitation at that location thus far in 2013 has reached 32.65 inches. For comparison purposes, the total is 5.66 inches over the all-time record for precipitation at that reporting point and a whopping 15.7 inches more than the Research Center’s 107 year average. It is also 17.03 inches more precipitation than recorded at that location in 2012.

Then there’s the matter of the recent plunge to miserably cold temperatures. According to the latest prognostications, don’t look for relief anytime soon. Perhaps not until April.

“The winter is favored for below normal temperatures,” said Tony Merriman, NWS meteorologist in Bismarck. “Here we’re more concerned with the next seven days. Cold. We’re looking at Minot wind chills Thursday morning around minus 30, Friday minus 35 and Saturday minus 40. Old Man Winter? He’s angry.”

Merriman says he expects wind chills in the minus 30 category to remain in the Minot region through the first part of next week, but that doesn’t mean the current cold snap will be followed by balmy temperatures. According to the Climate Prediction Center, the Minot region and most of North Dakota can expect much below normal temperatures through March.

The average temperature in December for Minot is 15.4 degrees and January, our coldest month, 12.2 degrees. The Old Farmer’s Almanac is in agreement with the CPC regarding an unusually cold season. Using their own time-tested formulas, the Almanac says temperatures on the Northern Plains will average four degrees below normal in December and seven degrees below normal in January. Other agencies, such as AccuWeather and weathertrends360, are in agreement.

Because weather forecasts, particularly long-term outlooks, are best guess scenarios based on a variety of weather patterns and historic trends, they are always subject to change. For that reason, forecasters at the Bismarck NWS will be closely watching developments this winter in nearby Montana.

According to the CPC, all of Montana is expected to receive above normal to well above normal snowfall through February. The edge of the forecast area bumps up against the western border of North Dakota.

“For us now, it looks like near-normal precipitation,” said Merriman. “Worth noting is Montana. Their precipitation outlook could shift east or west sometime this winter.”

A shift to the east, if it occurs, could result in the worst of all winter weather scenarios for the Minot area above normal snowfall combined with below normal temperatures.