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May 2013 Climate Summary

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Source/Author: Natalie Umphlett - High Plains Regional Climate Center 06/05/13

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

Temperature Summary

May 2013 was a month of extremes for the High Plains Region with a wide variety of weather ranging from record-breaking rainfall, record-breaking snowfall, record-breaking heat, and severe storms with flash-flooding, extremely large hail, high winds, and tornadoes. Much of the temperature story is washed out by the monthly averages which do not capture the wide swings in temperature. Monthly averages indicated that the eastern portion of the Region, along with central Colorado, had temperatures just below normal, while the western portion of the Region had average monthly temperatures which were just above normal. Central Wyoming was the only widespread exception with temperature departures of 2.0-4.0 degrees F (1.1-2.2 degrees C) above normal.

A look at the daily temperatures showed that there were many ups and downs throughout the month and there were some interesting records set because of that. For instance, areas of eastern Nebraska had nearly a 70 degree F (38.9 degrees C) temperature swing from the 12-14 and both record lows and record highs were set during this short timeframe. Lincoln, Nebraska had a record low temperature of 31 degrees F (-0.6 degrees C) on May 12th, followed by a record high of 100 degrees F (37.8 degrees C) on May 14. The heat of May 14th was not isolated to eastern Nebraska as daily records occurred in several states including Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming. In addition to the daily records, some locations had their earliest 100 degree F (37.8 degrees C) day on record. With a high temperature of 101 degrees F (38.3 degrees C), Omaha, Nebraska set a new daily high and had its earliest 100 degree F (37.8 degrees C) day on record on May 14th. This absolutely smashed the old record of May 29, 1934 (period of record 1871-2013). On average, Omaha reaches that threshold on July 10th.

Precipitation Summary

May was an interesting precipitation month for the High Plains Region. At the beginning of the month, snow fell across a large area of the Region and even as far south as Dodge City, Kansas. Some areas of eastern Nebraska and Kansas broke snowfall records for both daily and monthly amounts, as well as latest snowfall, and then went on to set records for the earliest 100 degree F (37.8 degrees C) day on record. For instance, Omaha, Nebraska received 3.1 inches (8 cm) of snow on May 1-2, which set a record for snowiest May. The old record of 2.0 inches (5 cm) was set in 1945 (period of record 1884-2013). About two weeks later, temperatures across the region soared and Omaha hit 101 degrees F (38.3 degrees C).

Multiple storms systems ultimately crossed the Region bringing snow, heavy rain, hail, high winds, and tornadoes. In regards to precipitation, by the end of the month, it was generally a story of the “haves” and the “have nots” - with most locations receiving either well above or well below normal precipitation and not too many in between. Kansas had an interesting example of the differences in precipitation. For instance, Topeka had its 20th wettest May with 6.76 inches (172 mm), while Dodge City had its 17th driest May with only 0.91 inches (23 mm) (period of record for Topeka: 1887-2013, period of record for Dodge City: 1874-2013).

Ample, or in some cases excessive, precipitation fell across North Dakota, the majority of South Dakota, most of Nebraska, central Colorado, northern Wyoming, and a few pockets of Kansas. Portions of these areas received extremely heavy rainfall, especially towards the end of the month, which helped improve the drought situation and in some cases brought flash flooding. Some of the heaviest precipitation occurred in North Dakota where nearly the entire western half of the state received over 200 percent of normal precipitation. Bismarck, North Dakota had a May total of 7.37 inches (187 mm). This came in at 4.97 inches (126 mm) above normal, or 307 percent of normal precipitation, easily beating the 1927 total of 7.04 inches (179 mm) (period of record 1874-2013). Another impressive total came from Bowman, North Dakota which received 10.61 inches (269 mm) and absolutely crushed the old record of 6.73 inches (171 mm) set in 1982 (period of record 1915-2013). This amount was 430 percent of normal precipitation! Other areas of the Region also received heavy precipitation including Lincoln, Nebraska which totaled 8.44 inches (214 mm). While not enough to break the record, this amount did rank as the 7th wettest May (period of record 1887-2013). The rains were quite welcome there, as this area had been dealing with drought since last year.

Those missing out on the heavy precipitation this month included the western half of Kansas, eastern and southern Colorado, southern and eastern Wyoming, and just a few pockets of South Dakota and Nebraska where precipitation totals were less than 70 percent of normal. Much of southeastern Colorado and southwestern Kansas received less than 25 percent of normal precipitation. This lack of precipitation hit eastern Colorado and western Kansas especially hard since portions of that area have been dealing with drought issues since 2011.

Overall, the cool, wet conditions this spring resulted in a slow start to corn and soybean planting, however, once the conditions improved producers were able to make significant progress to catch up. Unfortunately, winter wheat was still suffering as nearly half the crop remained in poor to very poor condition in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

Climate Outlook

At the end of May, ENSO-neutral conditions were still present and likely to continue through the summer. For the summer months, the temperature outlook indicates a higher probability of above normal temperatures for most of the High Plains Region including Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, the southern half of South Dakota, and the far southwest corner of North Dakota. Meanwhile, the precipitation outlook indicates a higher probability of below normal precipitation for the eastern half of Colorado, western and central Kansas, western and central Nebraska, far southeast Wyoming, and southwest South Dakota. 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

There were significant changes to the U.S. Drought Monitor over the past month. At the end of May, approximately 73 percent of the Region was in moderate (D1) to exceptional (D4) drought - down from 85 percent at the end of April. Ample, and in some cases excessive, precipitation helped reduce or eliminate drought in portions of each state. North Dakota is now virtually drought free, with only 0.01 percent of the state in the D1 designation. Significant improvements were also made to the extreme drought conditions (D3) in both South Dakota and Nebraska. Drought free areas have begun to emerge or grow in eastern South Dakota, southeastern Nebraska, and eastern Kansas. While much of the Region had heavy rains, portions of eastern Colorado and western Kansas missed out and D4 conditions persisted there. Like last month, Kansas had the largest area of D4 coverage with 22 percent, up just a bit from the 20 percent at the end of April. According to the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook released May 16th, drought conditions were expected to improve in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, eastern Kansas, northeastern Colorado, and eastern Wyoming. Drought was expected to persist elsewhere through July 2013.

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