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Winter 2021-22 predicted to be colder and snowier than last year

The Northern Plains is predicted to have a colder and snowier winter than last year as it heads into its second La Nina winter.

A large winter storm swept through the region with an upwards of 10 inches of snow falling in certain locations. Photo taken Dec. 6, 2021 in Larimore, North Dakota. Ann Bailey / Agweek

Some farmers may have breathed a sigh of relief when they saw inches of snow and precipitation falling down onto their acres over a large part of the region during Dec. 3-5. But according to Daryl Ritchison and Laura Edwards, many producers have little need to worry about last year’s drought plaguing their soil in the upcoming year.

While many areas faced dire drought conditions, a plentiful supply of rainfall during the fall has helped replenish the dry soil and subsoil moisture levels.

“There really was quite a turn around in the drought situation late in the summer and early in the fall. That is a very good time to get rain actually because it is very efficient in recharging our soil moisture,” said Laura Edwards, South Dakota State University Extension state climatologist.

The Dakotas experienced one of the warmest Novembers on record, making many skeptical that this winter would mirror last year’s. However, despite the warm temperatures, the region can expect a winter that many Dakotans have become accustomed to.

“Going through the rest of the winter, I think it will feel more like a North Dakota winter, where we will be dealing with snow more commonly and of course the cold temperatures that we’re always used to,” Daryl Ritchison, director of NDAWN, said. “I understand that November was generally mild and we had one of the warmest autumns on record this year. But we have seen some snow and I think things will change.”


Snow covers a harvested cornfield in Larimore, North Dakota. Larimore received 11 inches of snowfall from an early December winter storm. Photo taken Dec. 6, 2021 Ann Bailey / Agweek

Ritchison also urges agriculturalists to pay more attention to precipitation, rather than snowfall, as snow and precipitation are not the same.

“When people think about winters, they always think about the amount of snow. When I think of winters, I don’t think of snow totals, I think of the precipitation in that snow. Because as everyone knows, you can get 10 inches of snow, which is a lot, but it may only contain a half inch of moisture,” he said.

According to Edwards, a heavy influence to the region’s winter will be a cause of it being a La Nina year.

“With La Nina we tend to see colder than average temperatures in the late winter in the Dakotas and neighboring Minnesota,” she said.

In terms of back to back La Nina years, it is very common for a drought to occur, which Edwards says many times carries on to the next La Nina winter.

Despite the hotter than average start to the later months of 2021, both Edwards and Ritchison are confident that farmers and producers will be pleased by the overall soil in their fields and pastures by spring of 2022.

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