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December 2013 Climate Summary

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Source/Author: Natalie Umphlett - High Plains Regional Climate Center 01/07/14

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December 2013 Climate Summary  

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

Temperature Summary

Several Arctic blasts led to a bitterly cold end to the year. The first cold air outbreak of the month brought temperatures that were 20.0-30.0 degrees F (11.1-16.7 degrees C) below normal to the Region. Wind chills were dangerously low during this timeframe. Although there were a few reprieves from the bitterly cold air, temperatures across the majority of the High Plains Region were ultimately well below normal. North Dakota and South Dakota had the largest departures with temperatures ranging from 6.0-12.0 degrees F (3.3-6.7 degrees C) below normal. Temperature departures of 3.0-6.0 degrees F (1.7-3.3 degrees C) below normal were common across the remaining states in the Region.

While not record breaking, some locations did rank in the top 10 coolest Decembers on record. One example was Grand Forks, North Dakota which had its 3rd coolest December with an average temperature of -0.1 degrees F (-17.8 degrees C). Although this was 11.6 degrees F (6.4 degrees C) below normal, it was just shy of the record of -1.0 degree F (-18.3 degrees C) set back in 1917 (period of record 1893-2013). Another top 10 location was Aberdeen, South Dakota. With an average temperature of 6.5 degrees F (-14.2 degrees C), Aberdeen had its 4th coolest December (period of record 1893-2013). The record of -0.5 degrees F (-18.1 degrees C) occurred in 1983.

The bitterly cold weather did have impacts on travel and local business in North Dakota, according to the Grand Forks Herald. As temperatures plummeted, many folks were stranded in their vehicles when their diesel fuel turned to gel. One towing company indicated that business had quadrupled from the usual. Batteries and cold weather clothing were also in high demand. In addition, oil production in western areas of the state slowed due to the frigid temperatures.

Precipitation Summary

This month, the High Plains Region was generally wetter in the northern areas and drier in the southern areas. The heaviest precipitation was confined to North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming where liquid equivalent precipitation totals ranged from near normal up to 400 percent of normal. Bismarck, North Dakota had its 9th wettest December on record by picking up 1.26 inches (32 mm) of liquid equivalent precipitation (period of record 1874-2013). Bismarck also had its 9th snowiest December on record. Other locations also ranked in the top 10 snowiest Decembers. For instance, Pierre, South Dakota had its 4th snowiest December with 14.2 inches (36 cm). Pierre’s record amount of 31.3 inches (80 cm) occurred in 1951 (period of record 1897-2013). In addition, Grand Forks, North Dakota had its 5th snowiest December on record with 22.8 inches (58 cm). The old record of 30.2 inches (77 cm) fell in 1996 (period of record 1893-2013).

Some areas of the Region only received light precipitation throughout the month. A large area stretching from eastern Colorado into western Kansas and across Nebraska received at most 25 percent of normal precipitation. Isolated areas picked up little to no precipitation with totals of 5 percent of normal or less. Luckily, December is typically one of the driest months of the year, so below normal precipitation at this time of the year does little to impact the ongoing drought situation across Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado. Garden City, Kansas was one of these dry spots and with only 0.01 inches (0.3 mm) of liquid equivalent precipitation, it tied for 4th driest December on record (period of record 1947-2013).

Climate Outlook

ENSO-neutral conditions continued this month and are likely to continue into the summer of 2014. For the next three months, the temperature outlook indicates a higher probability of above normal temperatures in portions of southern and western Colorado and southern Kansas. Meanwhile, a higher probability of below normal temperatures exists for much of North Dakota and far northwestern South Dakota. The precipitation outlook indicates that much of the western half of Colorado has an increased probability of below normal precipitation. No areas in the Region have an enhanced chance of above normal precipitation. Equal chances of above, near, or below normal temperatures and precipitation exist for the rest of the 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

As expected this time of year, changes in drought conditions in the High Plains Region were minor, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Approximately 20 percent of the Region was in moderate (D1) to exceptional (D4) drought at the end of the month, which was a slight increase from 19 percent at the end of November. One year ago, 93 percent of the Region was in drought with about 27 percent in the D4 designation - what a difference a year makes!

Although there were significant improvements in drought conditions throughout 2013, little change is expected over the winter. Since the winter is typically the driest part of the year in the High Plains Region, no improvements in drought conditions are expected over the next few months. According to the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook released December 19th, current drought conditions are expected to persist across Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming through March 2014. Additionally, drought development is expected in western Colorado.

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