‘Normal’ conditions possible, but don’t count on it
You’ve likely heard of El Niño and La Niña, the cycling Pacific weather patterns that can dramatically affect weather on the U.S. mainland. Meteorologists use them as leading indicators when developing long-term weather forecasts.
But what happens when neither pattern is present? Welcome to "La Nada," which literally translates as "the nothing" and is formally known as ENSO Neutral. The National Weather Service is predicting ENSO Neutral conditions through spring 2014. That means much of the U.S. can expect equal chances of above- and below-normal temperatures and precipitation.
Get your shovel ready. But this winter might be anything but normal in areas such as the Northern Plains, says Paul Pastelok, AccuWeather lead long-range forecaster. He says the region could enjoy warmer-than-normal temperatures in early winter, followed by a February filled with Arctic blasts from the northern Rockies, pushing temperatures 8° to 10° below normal.
"We think it’s going to be a back-and-forth season across the Northern Plains," Pastelok says. That includes above-normal snowfall for areas such as Des Moines, Minneapolis, Omaha and northwest of Kansas City, he says.
Al Dutcher, state climatologist for the University of Nebraska, says regular storm activity throughout the Great Plains since September is a trend worth monitoring.
"The systems are active," he says. "If the trend continues, it won’t be a boring winter in this region."
Winter precipitation and temperatures often work in tandem, Dutcher says. For example, it takes more energy to melt ice and snow than it does to heat already-dry ground. That means areas with fall moisture tend to put a halt to runaway high temperatures.
The U.S. drought monitor still shows patches of drought across the western Corn Belt on into southern Minnesota, Iowa and central Illinois. Dutcher says any winter precipitation will further recharge soil moisture and replenish aquifer levels. However, he does note that not all winter precipitation is created equally. For example, snowfall that occurs before the ground is solidly frozen will cause more of that moisture to soak into the ground rather than becoming runoff when it melts.
But runoff or no, there should be enough winter precipitation to go around, Dutcher says.
"I see us having a normal winter pattern for a change," he says. "If this winter plays out like I think it will, a lot of our drought concerns will be drastically reduced."
When You’re Snowed In …
When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. When life hands you a snowstorm, farmers head to the shop, suggests Dan Anderson, an Iowa mechanic and Farm Journal columnist.
"Snowstorms are great times to work on hobbies," he says. "I’d say there’s not a more satisfying way to spend a day in your own shop, with the radio on and working on your antique tractor, old car, hot rod, motorcycle or whatever tinkering you enjoy, while the wind howls outside."
For those who "deny themselves the pleasure of a hobby," he suggests activities such as rebuilding spray pumps or cleaning up your workbench.
You can e-mail Ben Potter at firstname.lastname@example.org.