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December 2012 Climate Summary

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Source/Author: Natalie Umphlett - High Plains Regional Climate Center 01/04/13

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December 2012 Climate Summary  

For a printable version of the climate summary which includes more figures, data tables, and state summaries, click here

Temperature Summary

December 2012 average temperatures were within 2.0 degrees F (1.1 degrees C) of normal for most of the High Plains Region. Warmer areas included the eastern halves of Nebraska and Kansas, as well as central Wyoming, southern South Dakota, and the panhandle of Nebraska. Monthly average temperatures were generally 2.0-4.0 degrees F (1.1-2.2 degrees C) above normal in those areas, with a few areas ranging from 4.0-8.0 degrees F (2.2-4.4 degrees C) above normal. These temperatures were not record breaking. Cooler areas of the Region included northern North Dakota and south-central Colorado where average temperatures were 2.0-6.0 degrees F (1.1-3.3 degrees C) below normal. Although these temperatures were not low enough to break records, there were some locations that squeezed their way into the top 10 list. Alamosa, Colorado had its 10th coolest December with an average temperature of 11.6 degrees F (-11.3 degrees C), which was 6.3 degrees F (3.5 degrees C) below normal. The record of 5.1 degrees F (-14.9 degrees C) was set in 1991 (period of record 1906-2012). Even though December temperatures were below normal, 2012 ended as one of the warmest years on record in Alamosa. With an average temperature of 43.2 degrees F (6.2 degrees C), Alamosa had its 7th warmest year on record. The warmest year occurred in 1934 with an average temperature of 44.5 degrees F (6.9 degrees C).

Precipitation Summary

There were several storm systems that passed through the High Plains Region this month bringing much needed precipitation. Areas that received above normal precipitation included western portions of Wyoming and Colorado, a swath from eastern Colorado into northern Kansas and up through eastern Nebraska, and also eastern South Dakota. These areas generally received at least 150 percent of normal precipitation and localized areas received upwards of 400 percent of normal precipitation. The most significant storm systems to affect the Region occurred December 8-9, December 19-20, and December 31. The December 8-9 blizzard affected eastern South Dakota bringing localized heavy snow of up to 8.0-14.0 inches (20.0-36.0 cm) and high winds of 40-55 mph (64-89 km/h). This blizzard closed portions of I-29 and I-90. The December 19-20 blizzard brought heavy snow and high winds to much of Nebraska and northern Kansas. This blizzard caused many challenges to travelers as white out conditions closed many roads throughout both states and portions of I-80 in Nebraska. Finally, a New Year’s Eve winter storm blanketed Kansas with snow, the heaviest of which fell in the western part of the state with 6.0-10.0 inches (15-25 cm). Although there was above normal precipitation in many areas of the Region this month, it was not enough to improve the ongoing drought.

The highlighted station this month was Grand Island, Nebraska which received 9.5 inches (24 cm) of snow and 1.66 inches (42 mm) of liquid equivalent precipitation. This precipitation amount ranked as the 13th wettest December on record (period of record 1895-2012). What was interesting about December’s precipitation total was that it was the highest precipitation total in one month since May.

Although there were many areas which received above normal precipitation, there were also large areas of the Region which did not receive much precipitation this month, including a large area of southeastern Kansas, eastern North Dakota, and eastern Wyoming. These areas received less than 50 percent of normal precipitation. Meanwhile, much of southeastern Kansas received less than 25 percent of normal precipitation.

Climate Outlook

ENSO-neutral conditions are present and likely to continue into Spring 2013. For the next three months, the temperature outlook indicates a higher probability of above normal temperatures for most of Colorado and Kansas, southwestern Wyoming, and the far southwestern corner of Nebraska. A higher probability of below normal temperatures exists for much of North Dakota and the northwestern corner of South Dakota. The precipitation outlook indicates a higher probability of above normal precipitation for the northwestern part of Wyoming. A higher probability of below normal precipitation exists for the southern half of Colorado and the western half of Kansas. Equal chances of above, near, or below normal temperatures and precipitation exist for the rest of the High Plains Region. The seasonal outlooks combine the effects of long-term trends, soil moisture, and when applicable, the El Niño Southern Oscillation cycle (ENSO). More information about these forecasts can be found here.

Drought Watch

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, widespread drought conditions continued. Although much of the Region received rain and snow over the past month, this precipitation was only enough to stave off further deterioration of the drought. Overall, about 93 percent of the Region was still in moderate (D1) to exceptional (D4) drought. This was down slightly from the end of last month when 94 percent of the Region was in D1-D4. There were slight improvements in west-central North Dakota where a small section of abnormally dry conditions (D0) were erased and in southwestern Wyoming where a small section of extreme drought (D3) was downgraded to severe drought (D2). Drought conditions worsened slightly in Colorado and other areas of Wyoming. In Wyoming, D3 filled in the central part of the state and a small section of D4 developed in the southwest. In Colorado, D2 expanded in the north, and D3 and D4 conditions expanded slightly in the south. According to the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook released January 1st, drought conditions were expected to improve in North Dakota and far northwestern Wyoming. Drought was expected to persist elsewhere through March 2013.

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