Looking a lot like a wet winter | TheFencePost.com

Looking a lot like a wet winter

Farmers and ranchers can tentatively plan for a wetter-than-normal winter across the northern half of the United States, now that the Climate Prediction Center has updated its winter outlook, released on Nov. 21.

“Valid for December 2019 through February 2020, this increased winter wetness area includes Nebraska, Wyoming, and northern sections of Colorado and Kansas. In contrast, drought may persist through winter in southeastern Colorado and southwestern Kansas, based on the latest National Weather Service Seasonal Drought Outlook,” said Brad Rippey, USDA meteorologist in the Office of the Chief Economist/World Agricultural Outlook Board in Washington, D.C.

So, all of Nebraska and far northern Kansas are now favored for above normal winter precipitation, with the highest odds for above normal precipitation across far northern Nebraska. Then, central and southern Kansas have equal chances of either normal, above or below normal precipitation.

“With this in mind, both Kansas and Nebraska are likely to experience a wide variety of winter conditions, which may be influenced by other developing short-term patterns,” said Michael Moritz, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Hastings, Neb. “However, temperatures may be tough to pin down this winter. Southwest Kansas is most favored to be slightly warmer than normal with the rest of Nebraska and Kansas having equal chances of above, near or below normal temperatures. Keep in the mind, the outlook is a general prediction of the most likely conditions for the December-January-February three-month period as a whole,” Moritz said.

“The first surge of Arctic air looks to come in with the start of December, but the second surge by the first full weekend of December looks like the real deal,” said Al Dutcher, agricultural extension climatologist at the Nebraska State Climate Office in Lincoln. “If we get some good snow cover, subzero low temperatures will be widespread across the northern Plains and possibly as far south as northern Kansas. We will see.”

Also regarding precipitation, The northern one-third of both Colorado and Utah are predicted to have slightly higher than average chances for precipitation, while the rest of Colorado and Utah are expecting just equal chances of receiving either: normal, below normal or above normal winter precipitation.


“It will continue on the cool to cold side across much of Colorado now through mid-December. We will continue to watch the Arctic Oscillation (AO) which can bring periods of colder weather to Colorado, especially for the eastern plains,” said Kyle Mozley, meteorologist at the NWS in Pueblo, Colo. Mozley said the AO is very hard to forecast, with about two weeks of lead time. “So, for the next 20 to 30 days, colder than normal with above normal precipitation.” Mozley said once mid-December arrives, the CPC indicates the potential for above normal temperatures for Colorado through the winter months into the spring. “I believe once we get into mid-December, we will see these warmer temperatures. Before then, however, expect the cool to cold weather.”

Winter precipitation is favored for all of Wyoming, especially northern and east central Wyoming for the next few months.

“Both of the next two- to three-month moving windows show the entire state of Wyoming having better chances of being wetter than normal. These cover the periods of December through February, and January through March. As we look further out to the February through April period, this same pattern holds true for most of the state although the chances become evened out for the southern and southwestern parts of Wyoming,” said Tony Bergantino, interim director of the Water Resources Data System in the Wyoming State Climate Office and Wyoming CoCoRaHS state coordinator.

Winter temperatures in Wyoming are predicted to range from warmer than normal in the southwestern part of the state over the next several months, to an indeterminate temperature category in the northeastern part of Wyoming.

Regarding temperatures for Colorado, odds are slightly tilted toward above-normal winter temperatures for much of Colorado and southwestern Kansas. Otherwise, the latest winter outlook from NOAA continues to indicate that large sections of the central plains can expect equal chances of near normal, above normal or below normal winter temperatures.

“However, the three-month outlook smooths over the fact that day-to-day temperatures can greatly vary,” Rippey said. “Similar to what we’ve observed in recent weeks, winter across the central Great Plains could feature periods of mild weather interspersed with sharp cold snaps.”


The biggest question across southern Kansas to the Mexican border, will be how much cold air gets drawn southward and how many systems will move through the southern Rockies.

“If the predominant mode of travel for systems is down the front range before swinging toward the Great Lakes, then it is likely that a drier than normal bias would be likely for the western half of these three states,” Dutcher said. “If we can oscillate between a U.S. upper air trough over the eastern U.S. to a western U.S. trough, then the southern Plains will see more significant moisture and a warmer winter pattern (compared to normal) than the northern Plains.”

Last season, a steady El Nino impacted the globe. This winter, neither El Nino nor La Nina is expected, therefore confidence in this year’s outlook is somewhat more uncertain, than last winter, Moritz said regarding Pacific Ocean influences. El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) predictions call for neutral conditions across the Pacific. There is some evidence for a Modoki El Nino with the Central Pacific Ocean remaining warmer than average, but it remains to be seen what, if any impact a Modoki El Nino could have on weather in the U.S.

Digging deeper into fascination and impact of climate drivers, the other main players are: the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) and the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO).

“Currently, the IOD is strongly influencing the Indian Ocean, which in turn influences the MJO. The IOD looks to stall the MJO over the Indian Ocean (phases 2-3 in the cycle), which would keep Colorado on the wetter side of normal, especially into mid December,” Mozley said. “Now, for the bad news, the Equatorial Rossby Waves (these are massive ocean waves or movements stretching horizontally across the globe for hundreds of miles). They have been very actively moving off Africa, across the Atlantic and into the Gulf of Mexico. This has allowed for moisture to remain in place across the region through the summer and into the fall,” Mozley said, “And, long-range models have this shutting off in mid to late December. That means there will likely be less moisture to work with across Colorado. We will have to depend on storms coming in from the west and any remaining moisture associated with them. Sierra Nevada wrings the moisture out before they arrive in Colorado, for the most part. Hence, the more ‘normal’ precipitation through the winter months due to (these reasons for) limited moisture.” ❖

— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at rotatingstorm2004@yahoo.com.