What's with our weather? Blame it on El Ni�o As temperatures climbed to nearly 60 degrees last weekend in Vermillion, the Super Wash car wash in Vermillion greeted a steady stream of customers. Motorists found Saturday and Sunday to be perfect days to clear their vehicles of this winter's grime. by David Lias A typical late December in South Dakota usually includes the celebration of a white Christmas, thanks to a heavy coat of snow on the ground.
All South Dakotans also know that it's not unusual for the snow to be accompanied, at times, by bitterly cold temperatures.
All notions of a South Dakota winter were abandoned in Vermillion and surrounding areas Saturday.
Temperatures nearly reached 60 degrees here that day. Sunday wasn't quite as warm � the mercury only climbed to the low 50s.
The Bluffs Golf Course was packed Saturday by people who couldn't resist the temptation to polish up their clubs and play a round or two in the comfortable climate.
An endless stream of automobiles passed through the Super Wash car wash on Cherry Street as motorists took advantage of the warm temperatures to rid their vehicles of winter's grime.
What's going on, anyway?
Blame it on El Ni�o and the dry winter.
"The reason we've seen such warm weather for basically the past month or so is, number one, we don't have any snow on the ground," said Michael Gillispie, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Sioux Falls. "Without the snow on the ground, it gives the air plenty of chance to heat up, and over the weekend, we had sunny skies and a real warm air mass came out of the central Rockies and settled across the area."
Sunny skies and southwest winds fueled the warm temperatures, he said. Several records for high temperatures were set Saturday throughout eastern South Dakota.
Sunday, the wind was from the southeast rather than the southwest.
"That kept the day about 10 degrees cooler, but it was still much above normal," Gillispie said. "We're sitting in a pattern right now where, unless we have a major change in the weather systems, or we get some snow on the ground, we're looking at temperatures staying above normal."
The climate currently being experienced in the Great Plains can be credited to El Ni�o, he said. "It looks like we will stay generally in an El Ni�o winter like we're in right now. Temperatures will remain above normal for the winter months."
The brown Christmas experienced last week doesn't necessarily mean the remainder of the winter and early spring will remain dry in southeast South Dakota.
"There is a chance that we might see a little bit above normal precipitation as we get into January and February, but there are not any real strong tendencies for that right now," Gillispie said, noting that South Dakota generally doesn't receive much precipitation those two months.
"The big thing that's going to drive what kind of year the farmers have is what we see basically in March, April, May and possibly into June," he said.
Precipitation in March and April will probably be at or slightly below normal, Gillispsie said.
"As we get into mid- and late spring and into the summer months, we generally have a tendency to see above normal precipitation with El Ni�o waning," he said. "There is some light at the end of the tunnel. It is possible we could be getting back closer to normal by March or April."
El Ni�o occurs when sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean remain above average for more than several months. This usually triggers a chain reaction of atmospheric and weather changes around the globe. Based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's latest El Ni�o forecast and its updated December-February winter outlook, forecasters said
the nation can expect warmer-than-normal temperatures across the northern half of the country, wetter and stormier-than-normal weather across the south from California through the Carolinas, and drier-than-normal conditions in the northern Rockies and Midwest.
"El Ni�o has pushed the northern stream of the jet stream well up north into Canada," Gillispie said, "and that drops down to bear into the Great Lakes region, which leaves us under this upper level ridge of high pressure which is generally dry and warm.
"I would expect this continue for a little bit here the next couple months," he said. "We'll see an occasional storm system come across, and we will see some precipitation sometime in the next two months. The overall weather pattern looks like it will stay fairly consistent with what we have now."