- Jan 19, 2004
- Reaction score
- Northeast Montana
Weather experts say El Niño will affect climate
By MICHAEL BABCOCK • Tribune Outdoor Editor • October 16, 2009
Federal weather watchers said Thursday that winter in Montana and much of the northcentral United States will be warmer and drier this year because an El Niño — a warm current water in the Pacific Ocean that affects weather patterns — will dominate December through February weather.
If that happens, it could be bad news for much of Montana, which for the past year or two has been climbing out of near dust-bowl conditions created by a decade of drought.
"That's not too good of news," said Brady-area farmer Gary Gollehon. "Right now, we are pretty wet but not overly wet.
"I hope it is cold and snowy myself. If they are saying dry and warm, I don't care to see it — not only from a farmer standpoint but for our trees. They are used to going to bed in the winter and waking up in spring. Warmth in winter will get them to growing, and if we get cold weather it will hurt them. We have a yard full of green leaves that fell off our trees. Even Mother Nature got fooled — everybody did."
At a news conference Thursday morning, Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center — a division of the National Weather Service — said:
"We expect El Niño to strengthen and persist through the winter months, providing clues as to what the weather will be like during the period."
He noted that warmer water in the equatorial Pacific shifts the patterns of tropical rainfall, which affects the position and strengths of the jet stream and weather systems over the Pacific and the United States.
"Other climate factors are also likely to play a role in the winter weather at times across the country," Halpert said. "Some of these factors, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation, are difficult to predict more than one to two weeks in advance. The NAO adds uncertainty to the forecast in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic portions of the country."
"We have been through El Niño years before, and out of all of them we had one bad ski winter," said George Willett, owner/operator of Showdown Ski Area southeast of Great Falls. "The rest were fine. We get great snow as long as there is moisture in the air. The warmer temperatures — all that does is help pine beetles survive. We have been below zero once or twice already. We have to wait and see how it plays out. They make all of these projections long term and they have a tough time getting tomorrow right."
Willett said the ski area has about 18 inches of snow at the top of Porphyry Peak, and 3 to 4 inches near the lodge. He said it rained Wednesday night and Thursday morning at Showdown. The ski area typically opens in early December.
Officials with Great Divide Ski Area say eager skiers can hit the slopes this weekend — the area's earliest-ever opening date.
Kevin Taylor said the ski area's snow-making machines were put to work during a recent cold snap, creating enough snow to build a miniature terrain park. The ski area will be open to skiers for free this weekend. Taylor said Great Divide will remain open on weekends as long as the snow sticks around.
The ski area's previous earliest opening date was Halloween in 1998.
Gollehon said most wheat farmers probably planted their winter wheat in September, with the hope it will grow to 4 or 5 inches high before getting covered by a foot of snow.
"Some guys, because of recent moisture, are talking about going out and planting more. It is kind of a crap shoot this late in the season," he said.
"I would like to see a winter like we had last winter — it was miserable. We were isolated for six days and we couldn't get out, and we ran out of groceries," Gollehon said. "I would like to see a winter like we used to have — a lot of snow. Everybody would like to see that.
"It is miserable for livestock men but it pays big dividends. It fills the reservoirs and makes for green grass," he added. "Nothing worse than a 70 degree day in December and the wind blowing 60 miles an hour."
Highlights of the U.S. Winter Outlook for December through February include:
•Warmer-than-average temperatures are favored across much of the western and central U.S., especially in the northcentral states from Montana to Wisconsin. Though temperatures may average warmer than usual, periodic outbreaks of cold air are still possible.
•Drier-than-average conditions are expected in the Pacific Northwest and the Ohio and Tennessee River Valleys.
The National Weather Service cautioned that the seasonal outlook does not predict where and when snowstorms may hit, nor does it estimate total seasonal snowfall accumulations. Snow forecasts are dependent upon winter storms, which are generally not predictable more than several days in advance.