Statistics show winter has been warm and dry

By Katie Zerr

South Dakotans are getting a respite from winter this season as lack of snow and above normal temperatures have light jackets and gloves replacing down coats, boots and mittens.

With record warm temperatures in December, January, and so far in February, and no measurable snow on the ground, winter in this area has been mild, to say the least.

According to Kelly Serr of the National Weather Service in Aberdeen, this is the fifth warmest winter so far (through Feb. 20) on record in the Mobridge area since statistics have been recorded.

The average temperature during this time is 18.4 degrees. This season the average daily temperature in Mobridge has been 24.3 degrees.

The warmest winters (Dec., Jan. and Feb.) in the Mobridge area occurred in 1986 and ‘87 when the average temperature was 27.2 degrees; in 1991-92 with an average of 26.2 degrees; 1982-83 with an average temperature of 25; and 2001-02 when the average temperature was 24.7. (See chart on page 3 for temperature comparisons of past 20 years.)

Although the temperatures are expected to drop into the 30s and upper 20s in the next eight days, that will probably not change the record average temperatures. Normal temperatures at this time of year are in the upper 20s for the Mobridge area, according to Serr.

The normal highs are in the lower 30s.

A report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has identified January 2012 as the fourth-warmest January on record for the contiguous United States.

According to Senior Meteorologist Michael Pigott, in the contiguous United States the average temperature for January was 36.3 degrees, which is 5.5 degrees above normal. This makes the month not only the fourth warmest of its kind in history, but also the warmest since 2006.

“It’s warmer this year mainly because of the jet stream pattern,” said Pigott. “Generally, for the most part of the winter, it has been on a west-to-east pattern.

Nine states recorded their top 10 warmest average temperatures for January in 2012: South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Missouri, Arizona and Kansas.

In Mobridge, the average temperature for the month was 22.9 degrees with a precipitation total of 0.37 inch.

That is 6.9 degrees above the normal temp for the month. The highest recorded temperature was 58 degrees on January 3 and the lowest was 9 below on January 17.

The greatest 24-hour temperature swing was from 9 below to 23 degrees above, recorded on January 17.


Lack of snow

The brown hills and open water on Lake Oahe are visual reminder of the warm temperatures and lack of snow, but what are the numbers?

After a long, wet winter in 2010-11, this warm weather and lack of snow may seem like a relief, but could cause problems in the long run.

It has been dry in Mobridge in the three winter months. According to Serr, the average snowfall in December, January and February here is 16.6 inches.

Since October, only 6.5 inches of snow have fallen.

The lack of snow has helped with the cost of snow removal in Mobridge. There is not a separate budget for removing snow in the city, but Mobridge Chief Finance Officer Heather Beck said the lack of snow certainly makes a difference in the city’s budget.

“In three payrolls so far in the year 2012, there has been no overtime in the street department,” she said. “In the year 2011, the same three payrolls the street department had 181 hours of overtime.  The cost of this overtime to the city was approximately $5,700.”

That amount doesn’t include all the hours the other departments put in to help out the street department.

Beck said the street department budget was approximately $21,000 higher on expenses than it was at this same time last year. This figure does include the payroll overtime discussed above, along with the extra purchase of diesel and equipment repairs.

But that lack of moisture has hurt the Ag producers in the area. Even with recent snowfall, much of the state is considered abnormally dry with drought conditions developing.

The United States Department of Agriculture reports show a lack of topsoil moisture in a good portion of the state. With spring planting right around the corner, lack of moisture is a serious problem.


March brings snow

There may be some help on the horizon as March is historically the snowiest month in South Dakota.

In addition to a warm January in 2012, it has also been dry. In fact, the contiguous U.S. has seen its 28th driest January in recorded history. The Central Plains had below-average precipitation for the month.

According to the three-month forecast on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website, the warm trend may continue into the next three months. South Dakota is expected to have above normal temperatures through May, according to the forecast.

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