VERMILLION — Thanks to late 2021 precipitation, southeast South Dakota stands in better shape for spring planting, but the next two months remain a question mark, according to state climatologist Laura Edwards.

“We’ve seen some very good improvements to set us up well for 2022,” she said Wednesday during the Dakota Farm Show in Vermillion. “We’ve had some recovery from our drought situation. That’s good news as we head into the 2022 growing season, which isn’t that far away.”

However, that doesn’t mean the region won’t continue to feel the impact of the long hot, dry spell, she said. “We’re coming out of a drought, but we’ve been carrying long-term deficits,” she said.

In addition, the Great Plains is experiencing a strong LaNina weather pattern arriving from the Pacific Ocean, she said. The effect has been very variable, but the region could still see significant snowfall.

“I don’t think winter is over by any means,” she said. “The snowpack could last longer if we have cold weather in March.”

Edwards provided one of the seminars sponsored by the South Dakota Cooperative Extension Service during the farm show in the DakotaDome. Because of weather and travel concerns, she switched her in-person talk to a Zoom presentation.

In terms of her outlook, Edwards said the Central Plains remains in a LaNina advisory, with a 95% chance of it continuing through the winter season. The weather pattern’s continued strong presence marks the second LaNina year in a row for the region, she said.

“We’re already seeing a more coordinated atmosphere and ocean (temperature) this year compared to last year,” she said, noting the combined impact of the ocean warmth and the jet stream.

“We’re already seeing a LaNina-type weather pattern set up over North America and the United States. But for South Dakota, it’s been variable,” she added.

However, the real impact remains to be seen in the coming weeks, particularly next month, Edwards said.

“Historically, the LaNina conditions make their presence known in February. For South Dakota, that’s when it has the biggest impact,” she said. “So far, we’re not seeing a lot of precipitation impact on South Dakota.”

The February temperature outlook calls for colder-than-average temperatures, which would mirror 2021, Edwards said. “Last year, we had a mild winter except February, where we had a very cold two weeks,” she said.

South Dakota typically sees colder, drier winter, and the current LaNina pattern isn’t providing any direction on what to expect moving into spring, she said.

“If we get one or two dry storms, that skews us above normal,” she said. “Wintertime precipitation is very difficult to predict.”

The seven-day outlook doesn’t call for any precipitation or for very light amounts, Edwards said. “It’s very quiet. We’re moving into a drier pattern next week,” she said.

The NOAA weather outlook calls for the current Arctic blast to continue through Monday, then transitioning to warmer weather during the 8- to 14-day period.

“For January overall, we’re still looking at below-average temperatures, with the first week on the much strongly cold side,” she said.

Looking ahead, March should produce a heavy LaNina influence, with South Dakota falling in the middle for both precipitation and temperature.

“We’re in the no man’s land in the middle,” she said.

2021 proved to be a tale of two weather patterns, Edwards said.

June featured a number of days surpassing the 100-degree mark, making it the 12th hottest June in about 120 years or record keeping, she said. The heat compounded the continuing drought, she added.

“It was dry, but the heat made it worse,” she said.

The heat continued into fall, with southeast South Dakota recording its eighth warmest October-December time frame, Edwards said. The period was the 16th driest statewide for that three-month period and delayed the snow season.

While 2021 ranked among the bottom one-third in the state’s history of climate data, neighboring Nebraska and Iowa also saw dry conditions, Edwards said.

While heat remained, the precipitation pattern showed a dramatic change during the final months of 2021, Edwards said. Starting in September, the Rushmore State experienced a very wet year, with the southeast corner recording its 29th wettest period.

“We had a big flip at the end of the year,” she explained. “The good news is that it was optimal. It was a really good time for replenishing the soil moisture.”

The late-year precipitation also brought up levels for the James, Vermillion and Big Sioux rivers in the southeast region, she said. Those rivers are near normal but still have room to take in snow or other precipitation.

In addition, the southeast region has reached nearly normal soil moisture, another good sign heading into spring field work, Edwards said. With the moisture from late 2021, the southeast now ranks in the middle one-third in terms of a historical comparison.

Edwards provided an overview of the U.S. Drought Monitor during the last 13 weeks. “Most of southeast South Dakota has improved one or two (drought) categories during the last 13 weeks,” she said.

The warmer weather of 2021 created an impact on the frost and freeze dates, Edwards said.

In South Dakota, the first 32-degree frost usually occurs around mid-October, while the southeast corner, including Yankton and Vermillion, usually sees its first frost during late October. The first hard freeze of 28 degrees usually occurs in late October or early November.

However, the first frost and freeze occurred late in a number of locations, including the southeast corner, during 2021, Edwards said.

“They came two to three weeks later than average, which fits the long-term trend toward a warmer and wetter fall season,” she added. “We are seeing a warmer growing season and a wetter spring and fall. This past year, we saw a late frost and very wet conditions.”

Looking ahead, the Missouri River basin looks able to handle any additional storage demands for its six mainstem dams and reservoirs, Edwards said.

The current storage stands at 48.1 million acre-feet (MAF), she said. For comparison, 2012 was very similar to 2021 for system storage, she added.

“We’re starting out similar to 2013, as far as the Missouri River’s total system storage,” she noted.

In conclusion, Edwards said the southeast region stands in a much better situation for precipitation.

“The fall season brought drought recovery for much of South Dakota, which set us up well for spring,” she said. “We may see some lingering dryness, but we’re not too worried about South Dakota.”

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