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This will be a mile winter, you can bet on it

There’s a unique weather phenomenon happening now that northwestern North Dakota hasn’t seen in 18 years.

12/08/15 (Tue)


Will it be a white Christmas? ... This photograph, taken Monday, Dec. 7, show's there isn't a trace of snow on the ground in the Kenmare area. And most likely, there won't be for the foreseeable future as temperatures are expected to remain moderate for the next several days. In fact, daytime highs are expected to remain above normal through Christmas.

By Marvin Baker

There’s a unique weather phenomenon happening now that northwestern North Dakota hasn’t seen in 18 years.

Technically, it’s autumn for another 12 days, but it’s quickly shaping up to be the mildest winter here since 1997.

Although no record highs have yet been set, consistent daytime temperatures into the 40s and 50s has led many to believe January will be similar. Thursday’s high of 53, fell 1 degree short of tying the Dec. 3 record set in 1949.

In addition, no snow indicates the ground will absorb more sunlight making for higher average daytime highs.

There have only been two winters in recent memory with no measurable snow on the ground through the winter; 1982-83 and 2011-2012.

And judging by weather statistics provided to The Kenmare News from the Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge, a similar pattern is evolving this winter.

December 1996 was average based on the long-term historical temperatures in Kenmare.

The highest temperature that month was 37 degrees, already eclipsed by 2 degrees this year.

It was January 1997 when things began to get interesting. Despite three nights in the 30-below range, there were also three days that hit 40 or better, then February became consistently warmer.

December 1997 became one of the warmest Decembers on record in Kenmare with 22 days at above freezing temperatures.

Fifteen days were in the 30s, four days were in the 40s and three days were in the 50s with a 54 recorded on Dec. 14 that year. That was also the warmest overnight low that month at 40 degrees.

Another consideration for that month was five consecutive days of fog, from Dec. 6-10.

 As a result, 1997 is regarded by the National Weather Service as the mildest winter in the history of North Dakota based on overall temperatures through the winter.

An even better judge of how thing will shake out could be December 1982, which began much like December 2015, with the first six days in the 40s and 30s with the highest hitting 45 on Dec. 5, 1982.

Then, like January 1997, temperatures really took off in January 1983 with four days above 40 degrees and 11 days above 30. February then became slightly warmer than January.

Many of us like to think that the winter of 2011-2012 was the most mild but it was most likely second to 1997.

But the month of December 2011 was much like this month with multiple days in the 40s, mild overnight lows and just a trace of snow.

But the difference between 2011 and this month is that the 40s were spread around throughout that month.

There were six days in December 1982 at 40 or higher with the peak being 45 on Dec. 20. Christmas Eve was 40 that year and Christmas Day reached a high of 41.

January 2012 followed with unseasonably mild temperatures with no measurable snow.

Three days went over 50 that month with a 58 on the 9th, being the highest.

Seven days in February 2012 went over 40 making it statistically like the October long-term average.

Just to show a striking contrast, we went back to 1936 which is regarded as the coldest winter in North Dakota and the hottest summer.

December 1936 was a bit deceiving because the temperature in Kenmare peaked at 51 on the 11th and 54 on the 23rd. Fourteen additional daytime highs reached into the 30s and 40s. That followed in January 1937 with near record snowfall and average temperatures.

It was January and February 1936 that gives it the distinction of the coldest winter since record keeping began six years before statehood.

Of 61 reports for daytime high and overnight low, 48 of them were below zero, including the first 19 days having below zero highs and 29 of 31 nights below zero including 22 consecutive.

When Parshall hit 60 below and became the coldest official temperature in the history of North Dakota, that same day, Feb. 16, 1936, it was 40 below in Kenmare.

That followed up with the hottest July on record with 13 days that month going over 100, with 108 being the peak on July 11.

With a long-term average December high in Kenmare of 20 degrees, we’re already pushing 40 for an average this year.

There’s a lot of December left, but these moderate temperatures are all because of El Nino, according to numerous sources.

El Nino is a periodic warming of water in the Pacific Ocean that tends to boost winter temperatures and create drier winters.

“A strong El Nino is in place and should exert a strong influence over our weather this winter,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center. “We have the highest confidence for a mild winter across the northern Great Plains.”

But Halpert echoed what WDAY meteorologist John Wheeler said a month ago, that there will be periodic shots of bitter cold and periods of snow, however the frequency and number is expected to be much lower than normal.

In fact, in every mild December we’ve had, there have been below zero overnight temperatures.

In December 1982, the coldest temperature was 15 below zero, in 1996 it was 26 below zero, in December 2011 the coldest temperature was 13 below. Thus far this December it has been 18 degrees.

On Sept. 14, when the high was 42 degrees, the National Weather Service told us we’d have above average temperatures, Environment Canada said above average temperatures through the winter and the Farmers Almanac said there will be unseasonably mild temperatures through the winter.

It appears their predictions are coming true.

“We have more confidence in the forecast this year that there will be a strong El Nino,” Halpert said. “El Nino is normally a positive for the United States during the winter months.” ... 

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