Return of La Niña conditions favors colder, snowier winter, forecasters say

A La Niña weather pattern can produce a colder, snowier winter on the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest, but sometimes is overridden by other weather systems. This winter likely will be colder and snowier than last year's mild, dry winter, forecasters say.
A cross-country skier hits the trails during an early morning outing along the Red River in south Fargo on Wednesday, Feb. 24. David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO — Brace yourselves: It appears that a closely watched weather pattern is setting up in a way that means we’ll likely see a more typical winter than the milquetoast version that underwhelmed the region last winter.

The upcoming winter will be influenced by a La Niña weather pattern that often produces colder and somewhat snowier winters for the area, said John Wheeler, WDAY Stormtracker chief meteorologist.

The uncertainty is because La Niña is only one of a variety of signals that shape our winters. “It can be overcome by other events,” he said.

Last winter was technically a La Niña winter but didn’t behave at all like a typical La Niña because it was overwhelmed by weather patterns that produced drought, which in turn resulted in warmer temperatures.

“It did not behave at all like a statistical La Niña,” Wheeler said.


When two La Niñas fall back to back, however, the encore round is more likely to behave like a typical La Niña, colder and sometimes snowier than usual, he said.

A fall cold snap predicted for next week won’t be attributable to La Niña, Wheeler said. Those effects don’t come until winter and are usually strongest starting in late January through early March.

“It’s almost certain to be colder and snowier than last year,” which was moderated by the drought that now appears to be unwinding, he said.

A La Niña pattern results in a jet stream that draws down cold air from the Gulf of Alaska, said Greg Gust, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Despite formation of another La Niña, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center could not make a prediction of the upcoming winter’s precipitation or temperature.

That’s because weather patterns tend to persist, and the last 18 months have been under abnormally dry or drought conditions, which weighed on the winter outlook, Gust said.

Still, he agreed that the upcoming winter will be more typical than last winter.

“Wetter, snowier, colder. No doubt about it,” he said.


Adnan Akyüz, the North Dakota state climatologist, also agreed that this winter likely won’t be as mild as last winter.

“I am optimistic that this La Niña is going to produce its expected pattern, that is cooler and wetter,” he said, agreeing with Wheeler that the second round in back-to-back La Niñas is usually more potent.

A typical La Niña will help bring an end to the drought that has gripped the region, Akyüz said. “It is great news. We want it to be wet. We want snow to be there.”

Precipitation this fall and winter will help replenish soil moisture. Based on two years that broke earlier significant droughts, 1937 and 1989, Akyüz believes next spring will be a continuation of the colder, wetter pattern that he expects for winter in the Red River Valley.

“If the pattern repeats,” he said, “this is what we can expect.”

What To Read Next
All that is required is a subtle rising motion in the air or a subtle cooling of the air at cloud level.
The U.S. Drought Monitor has most of the Dakotas and Minnesota in a state ranging from "abnormally dry" to "moderate drought."
Such a forecast would be nearly impossible because wind over land is much more turbulent than wind over water.
WDAY's StormTRACKER meteorologists are tracking the storm. Check back for updates.