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Halfway through meteorological winter: colder and snowier than normal for most

Published: Jan. 17, 2022 at 2:51 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Meteorological winter lasts from the start of December through the end of February and is often used for weather records. Now that we’re halfway through that period, we can assess where we stand for temperatures and snowfall.

After a very mild fall, temperatures turned much colder at the start of December and the first half of meteorological winter has seen below normal temperatures throughout all of western and central North Dakota.

Average temperatures and temperature departures through the first half of meteorological winter...
Average temperatures and temperature departures through the first half of meteorological winter in western/central North Dakota(KFYR)

December featured up and down temperatures throughout the month, with some mild stretches but also multiple shots of Arctic air. The coldest air of the season arrived during the final week of the month with widespread sub-zero highs to close out 2021.

Then, January started with that period of below normal temperatures continuing before we’ve warmed up with a mild stretch within the past week.

We’ve already had anomalous temperatures this meteorological winter, with the warmest temperatures so far being recorded on December 1st and we dipped down into the coldest of the arctic air at the start of January with temperatures in the 20s to 30 degrees below zero.

Highest and lowest temperatures recorded so far this meteorological winter in western/central ND
Highest and lowest temperatures recorded so far this meteorological winter in western/central ND(KFYR)

In terms of snow since the start of meteorological winter on December 1st, the major climate observing sites in the region have accumulated between 20 and 32 inches. Comparing this to where we should be at this point in the season, all of these locations are above normal especially in the Red River Valley. Now adding in some cooperative observing sites, we can see the general distribution of snow this winter favoring the northern and eastern parts of the state for more snowfall so far.

Snow so far this meteorological winter (yellow means that it's a long-term climate observing...
Snow so far this meteorological winter (yellow means that it's a long-term climate observing site - the other totals are from the cooperative observing network). The blue numbers indicate the departure from normal snowfall for this point in meteorological winter.(KFYR)

The snow depth as of Sunday also shows this contrast with much less snow in the west and over a foot of snow still on the ground in parts of eastern North Dakota.

Snow depth as of Sunday
Snow depth as of Sunday(KFYR)

One of the reasons for this can be tied back to our La Nina pattern this winter with the jet stream positioned in a way that allows for lots of Alberta clipper systems to dive south through our region, with many of them impacting areas that are farther east in the region. This pattern also allows for Arctic air to spill down from Canada, resulting in many of the cold snaps we’ve had.

With the moisture we’ve received so far this winter, the drought has improved over central and eastern North Dakota but the northwest part of the state remains unchanged in the extreme drought category.

There’s still a lot more of winter left with more Arctic shots of air favored, but at least over the next eight to 14 days, we could be looking at some milder temperatures.

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