Northeastern South Dakota may have a colder-than-average winter, and the amount of precipitation to help heal drought effects is uncertain, according to a new Climate Prediction Center prediction.

“A shift in climate patterns over the Pacific Ocean has changed things for us,” says Laura Edwards, South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension climate field specialist. Now that El Niño is no longer developing in the Pacific Ocean’s tropical region, forecasters are looking to see what might be influencing atmospheric patterns towards the northern Great Plains.

Over the winter months, the state looks to have equal chances of having wetter, drier or near-normal amounts of precipitation. “This does not necessarily mean we will have an average year for snowfall, but that the probability is equal for all three scenarios. Winter is our driest time of year, so we don't expect a drought buster from December through February,” says Edwards. “South Dakota will need an extended period of above-average precipitation to recover from the current drought.”

The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook, also released last week, reflects the same information.

“Previously, some improvement was forecast through January for the northern-tier counties from Harding to Roberts,” says Dennis Todey, SDSU state climatologist. “Now, drought is projected to persist across the whole state through at least February.”

The winter forecasts bring uncertainty, Todey and Edwards agree.

“Without El Niño or La Niña impacting us over the winter season, it is more challenging to come up with a strong forecast, and the models are struggling with precipitation in particular,” Todey says.

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