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Uncertainty in Current Climate Outlook
USAgNet - 09/19/2016

Climate outlooks for the remainder of the fall season turned less certain this week, as the likelihood of La Nina has been reduced, explained Laura Edwards, Acting State Climatologist and SDSU Extension Climate Field Specialist.

"As of September 8, 2016 NOAA's (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration's) Climate Prediction Center removed their La Nina Watch status, and are now favoring Neutral conditions," Edwards said.

She explained that El Nino and La Nina are generally the best long-term forecast indicators for the late fall and winter season. "For the last several months, computer models and forecasters had been projecting a weak La Nina to affect our climate in North America this winter, following the strong El Nino from earlier this year. With the status removed, it makes climate predicting a little less certain," Edwards said.

Neutral conditions means sea surface temperatures in the equatorial region of the Pacific Ocean, and other atmosphere and ocean indicators, are near the long-term average.

La Nina is when ocean waters are cooler than average in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, with sustained temperatures of just under 1 degree Fahrenheit cooler than average for three consecutive months.

The climate outlook for October and the season ahead was issued by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center on September 15, 2016.

Edwards said this update continues to show warmer than average temperatures favored in South Dakota for the month ahead. "This outlook is given with a little less certainty than we had seen in previous outlooks," she said.

The precipitation outlook for October is also less clear for the state, as it is in a region that has equal probability of being wetter, drier or near average for the month.

"This could be good news for eastern region farmers who are looking for some warm and dry, or even near average rainfall, conditions to help dry down corn and soybeans for harvest," Edwards said.

She added that the outlook could be less ideal news for western and central region growers, who are looking for some rainfall to help start winter wheat this fall.

"Despite some much-needed rainfall in August, many areas could still benefit from additional moisture to recover from the significant drought that took hold this summer," she said. "Fall moisture could also help with pasture and forage conditions, and set the stage for the early spring."

Looking further ahead, Edwards said according to the Climate Prediction Center, the rest of the year could continue to be warmer than average.

"This has been a consistent feature of 2016, as the year so far has been warmer than average for South Dakota," she said.

Precipitation for the rest of the year has become more uncertain, partly due to the reduced probability of La Nina that generally affects the Northern Rockies and can spill over into the western Dakotas.

"South Dakota now sits just east of an area that is still favored to be wetter than average, with no clear signals for precipitation in our area," she said.

Since La Nina has become less likely than neutral conditions, Edwards explained that for the rest of the fall and winter season ahead, climatologists will be looking at a handful of other atmospheric and oceanic patterns.

"There are other patterns that can affect us, both from the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and how they drive the jet stream in the winter season," she said.

This winter, climate forecasters will likely be looking closer at some shorter term changes in the climate, on the timescales of three to four weeks to a couple of months.

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