SDSU Extension Climatologists Ask, will there be an Early Arrival of Spring?

Column by Laura Edwards, SDSU Extension Climate Field Specialist
Punxsutawney Phil, the famous groundhog, did not see his shadow this year, but can we really expect an early spring in South Dakota?
Some people who follow Phil’s annual Feburary 2 outing say he is accurate as little as 39 percent of the time.
So will 2016 be among the lucky 39 percent?
The forecasters at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center use a suite of computer forecast models, and have El Nino to help this year.
El Nino typically has a larger role in our winter season climate, particularly as above average temperatures, but its impact wanes in the spring season.
January climate review
Here in South Dakota our winter season so far has been slightly wetter and warmer than usual. The northwest counties and northern Black Hills have been drier than average since November. The south central and southeast have been about one and half to two times wetter than average over the last three months.
The northeastern counties have been especially warm in January, as some locations were 3 to 6 degrees above average, consistent with the NOAA outlooks for the winter. Temperatures were slightly below average in the central and southern parts of the state, and near average in the southeast in the last month.
 
Forecast for February and beyond
NOAA’s latest official forecast for the next three months shows South Dakota continuing to straddle the line between regions that are projected to be wetter to our south and drier to our north and east.
This could mean a couple of surges of moisture in the southern part of the state, such as what we saw this week with the blizzard in the southeast corner of the state, and also some northerly flow bringing drier air at times.
The temperature outlook for the spring season indicates warmer than average temperatures favored over the northern states.
Punxsutawney Phil may be right after all
As it turns out, it is possible that South Dakota could indeed see an early spring this year, if NOAA and Punxsutawney Phil have anything to say about it.