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National Weather Service forecasts above-average winter for ND

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National Weather Service forecasts above-average winter for ND
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Brace yourself -- winter is coming.

It's hard to imagine after the hottest July in recorded history that icy roads and blizzards are just a few months away.


"What we expect is El Nino conditions to develop by the end of September and persist through winter and possibly into spring of 2013," said Joshua Scheck, science and operations officer for the National Weather Service in Bismarck.

An El Nino year usually brings more rain and less snow, he said.

Temperatures are also expected to be above average, but not necessarily because of daytime temperatures, Scheck said. During El Nino there is more cloud cover at night, creating a slight greenhouse effect and keeping temperatures from dropping.

"When the temperatures are warmer we tend to get more wet snow and rain-snow mixes," he said. "So the resulting snow depth over the season tends to be lower because that heavier snow compacts very quickly."

Last winter was a La Nina year, which generally produces a lot of precipitation with lower temperatures, Scheck said. There was a lot of snow and cold temperatures produced by La Nina, but because of arctic oscillation that weather was kept above the border. While North Dakota had a mild, dry winter, Canada and Alaska were slammed.

"The poor Canadians, they don't get any relief then," he said, adding it's very rare that the arctic oscillation to stay in one spot like it did last year.

North Dakota winters can be unpredictable, Stark County Emergency Manager Bill Fahlsing said.

"Even though we may be experiencing a somewhat mild winter that can change," he said. "You need to prepare for the more severe weather if it were to happen."

Snow days from school

Rural area schools have a unique challenge balancing winter weather safety and making sure students get an education, Billings County Schools Principal Denise Soehren said. Her school has several built-in snow days and has not had to add on at the end of the year.

"I start sending kids home probably earlier than a lot of other places would," she said. "Just because of the ruralness of where we are."

The two schools in the district, DeMores in Medora and Fairfield, are 40 miles apart.

"One school can be not having any weather-related issues and the other school could be in a blizzard," Soehren said.

In Billings County students, especially those from warmer climates, usually have the proper winter-weather gear, Soehren said. The school starts reminding students early in the year of the impending glacial climate.

"They are the ones probably more apt to have some of the even warmer stuff earlier in the year 'cause they're already cold in October," she said of families from balmier climates. "Compared to our kids who still think it's hot out."

Everyone, and not just those from the south, should be prepared with winter survival kits, proper outdoor clothing and modern tools for winter existence, Fahlsing said. North Dakota State university developed a winter-survival app last year that he recommends everyone with a smartphone download.

"My No. 1 tip is always be prepared for the worst," he said.

Rural and RV residents

Rural residents need to take extra precautions, making sure they have enough food, water and medication available for at least 72 hours in case of a blizzard, Fahlsing said. Other provisions include a battery-operated radio and a standard cord phone that does not need an external power source in case of an outage.

Those living in mobile homes and RVs need to take special precautions when winterizing their living quarters, he said, recommending they contact the manufacturers for instructions.

No matter how far science advances, Mother Nature can always throw meteorologists a curve ball, especially in North Dakota, Scheck said.

"I have lived in many states in the U.S. and I have forecasted weather for every state in the U.S. and North Dakota is one of the most extreme climates I have ever experienced," he said. "You really need to take the weather seriously."

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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