December 2022 Climate Summary

Medicine Bow National Forest, Photo Courtesy of Gannon Rush

Regional Breakdown

2022 will be remembered as the year of unusually high winds in the High Plains. After beginning the year with near-record strong winds, the final month brought similar conditions.


Early in December, winds gusted over 40 mph (64.4 km/h) in northwestern Kansas. With how significant the drought is in that area; large amounts of dust were picked up by the strong winds. The blowing dust led to a multi-vehicle accident and unfortunately, one person perished.


Winds were not only prevalent at the beginning of the month but also contributed to likely one of the coldest spells on record for the region. An intense cold front moved through on the 21st, with many places dropping 40 degrees F (22.2 degrees C) in under an hour. This arctic outbreak not only brought cold temperatures but also extreme winds. Wind chills surpassed –70 degrees F (-56.7 degrees C) in Wyoming, while the rest of the region saw wind chills between –40 and –50 degrees F (-40 and –45.6 degrees C) due wind gusts well over 50 mph (80.5 km/h) in some places. Although wind chills records are hard to verify, many places likely experienced their record coldest wind chill. This system also brought snow, with much of the region experiencing a white Christmas this year.

Above: Departure from 1991-2020 normal temperature (left) and percent of normal precipitation (right) for December 2022 in the High Plains region. Maps
produced by the High Plains Regional Climate Center and are available at: http://hprcc.unl.edu/maps/current

Precipitation and Water Resources

December precipitation was much above-normal for the northern part of the region due to several winter storms, however, the drought-stricken areas along the Front Range of the Rockies and western Kansas missed this beneficial precipitation again. Many locations recorded their top 10 wettest
and snowiest months on record.


With mounting dryness from the past several months, these winter storms could not have been more beneficial. Northern Nebraska benefited greatly, with Chadron and Valentine observing their record-wettest month. Valentine also recorded their 3rd snowiest month and nearly broke the record, with 22.3 inches (56.64 cm) of snow. Across the Dakotas, numerous locations observed near-record precipitation and snowfall. Pierre and Sisseton ranked in the top 5 wettest and snowiest, while the majority of South Dakota ranked in the top 10 wettest. Bismarck, North Dakota followed up a very snowy November by recording their 2nd December, with 30 inches (76.2 cm) of snow falling.


At the beginning of the month, much of the region was near record lows for soil moisture. While the southern part of the region missed out, much of the region greatly benefited from the precipitation this past month.


While it is still early into the season, the mountain snowpack is in good shape. The majority of the basins are at or near average. This is favorable for improving streamflow conditions, as they are incredibly low throughout the drought-stricken southern Plains. The Corps of Engineers announced
that releases from Gavins Point Dam will reach wintertime levels by mid-December.

Above: Total precipitation in inches (top) and departure from normal
precipitation in inches (bottom) for December 2022. These maps are produced by HPRCC and can be found on the Current Climate Summary
Maps page at: http://hprcc.unl.edu/maps/current

Temperatures

The first half of the month began with warmer temperatures, however, things rapidly changed in the back half. A vigorous low-pressure system led to significant temperature drops and record cold. Overall, most of the region ended with below to well below normal temperatures.


After enjoying normal to above-normal temperatures for the first part of the month, the region experienced dangerously cold temperatures and wind chills. Many locations experienced record temperature drops on the afternoon of the 21st after a remarkable cold front advanced across the central United States. Cheyenne, Wyoming dropped 40 degrees F (22.2 degrees C) from 43 degrees F (6.1 degrees C) to 3 degrees F (-16.1 degrees C) in just 30 minutes, beating the previous record of 37 degrees F (20.6 degrees C) in an hour. Temperatures continued to drop, with the thermometer falling a total of 51 degrees F (28.3 degrees C) in two hours. Combined with high winds, dangerous and record wind chills were present across much of the region for the next few days. Temperatures rebounded, with Cheyenne reaching 57 degrees F (13.9 degrees C) on the 27th.

Drought Conditions

The record to near-record wetness across the northern part of the region eased drought conditions. In the southern portions, the precipitation deficits continued to increase and further elevated the situation. Overall, there were minimal changes in D0 to D4 (abnormally dry to exceptional drought conditions).


The multiple winter storms led to large-scale improvements in the Dakotas. South Dakota observed a 26 percent decrease in D1-D4 (moderate to exceptional drought) after multiple locations in the state were in the top 10 snowiest December. The area coverage of extreme drought (D3) was
reduced by almost 10 percent and is now limited to a small portion in the southeastern part of the state. While D4 was trimmed slightly in southeastern Kansas, it was expanded in the northwestern part of the state and is now connected to the area of D4 in southwestern Nebraska. Elsewhere in the region, other improvements and degradation were observed.

The U.S. Drought Monitor is produced as a joint effort of the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Drought Mitigation
Center, U.S. Department of Commerce, and the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). For current Drought Monitor
information, please see: http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

Climate Outlooks

According to the Climate Prediction Center, La Niña conditions are likely to continue through the end of the year. A La Niña advisory is currently in effect. For more information, visit  https://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/lanina/enso_evolution-status-fcsts-web.pdf 

The National Weather Service’s long-range flood
outlook indicates a low probability of Minor Flooding in eastern Kansas through February. According to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), fire potential will be limited across the region through next year.

The seasonal temperature and precipitation outlook presented below combine the effects of long-term trends, soil moisture, and when applicable, the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). To learn more about these outlooks, please visit http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov.  

Temperature

The three-month temperature outlook shows an increased chance of above-normal temperatures in the southern part of the United States, while below-normal temperatures are favored in the northwestern part. Across the High Plains there are equal chances of above-, below-, and near-normal temperatures across much of the region. The Dakotas and parts of Wyoming have increased chances of below-normal temperatures.

Precipitation

The outlook for the next three months indicates below-normal precipitation across central parts of the United States. Across the High Plains, there are equal chances of above-, below-, and near normal precipitation in North Dakota. The rest of the region has increased chances of below-normal precipitation.

Drought

The U.S Seasonal Drought Outlook released on December 15th indicates that drought conditions will likely improve across the northern part of the region. Opposite of this, development is likely in southern Colorado.

Station Summaries: By the Number

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