Daryl Ritchison

Farmers and ranchers across the Northern Plains have been told to expect a warmer and drier than average winter this year, but Daryl Ritchison, interim director of NDAWN, says that may not exactly be the case.

“Most individuals have heard there’s an El Nino trying to develop in the Pacific Ocean,” said Ritchison. “Many people who are familiar with that often hear El Ninos and think, ‘Oh, it’s going to be a warmer and drier than a normal winter.’ That is often the case, no doubt, but not always.”

Not all El Ninos are created equally, and according to Ritchison, this particular El Nino that’s developing looks like it’s going to be an El Nino Modoki, which means the central part of the Pacific Ocean is above average temperatures, but not the central and eastern parts together, making it more localized.

“Those type of winters in the Northern Plains tend to not be warmer or drier than average,” he said. “So I’ve felt this winter will be similar to last year, being quite average, probably for most of the Northern Plains – North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota.”

Historically speaking with most El Ninos, the winters are often mild, but the springs aren’t that great. Farmers and ranchers experience a mild winter and expect they may be able to get into their fields early, but then Mother Nature plays a trick on them.

“It’s great when it’s nice in January and February, but that does nothing for me if I’m a farmer,” said Ritchison. “It always comes down to a fight with perception in this business of predicting the weather. If next spring is still cooler than average, farmers may not be getting out when they want to, but it’s probably not going to be anything like it was last April when it was horrible.

“So in turn, it would be better than last year because your memories only go back one year, but my suspicion is that March and April will get off to a slower start, like they normally do with El Ninos, but I’m not thinking it’s going to be anything like what we experienced this year,” he added.

How much snowfall can those in the Northern Plains expect this winter? Ritchison said there’s a lot of misinformation out there on platforms like social media where people are putting out incorrect information.

“A lot of people are mentioning how this year is similar to 2009,” he said. “Most remember the winter of 2009/2010 was not as bad as 2008/2009 or 2010/2011, but we had a lot of flooding, lots of snow and it was a tough winter. That year happened to be one of these El Nino Modoki. That’s out there on social media, but I personally don’t see it because there are enough differences out there to where it’s just not setting up.”

Ritchison notes how November of 2009 was one of the warmest on record, and obviously, that hasn’t been the case so far this year. While he says it’s still possible, the odds favor a winter closer to what everyone experienced last year.

“People thought last winter was so cold because the three prior to that were warmer than average,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this winter has a slow start. It may not seem that way now, but if we have a stretch of 25-30 degree weather in December, yeah that’s cold by everyone else’s standards, but not by ours locally. Usually Modoki winters take a little while to get going, but the problem with that is they tend to linger into spring. This isn’t a classic El Nino and it shouldn’t be a classic El Nino winter.”