Missouri River Basin Winter Quarterly Impacts and Outlooks

Regional Significant Events for December 2023 – February 2024

Highlights for the Basin

This winter was historically warm in the Dakotas, with records obliterated in
some places. 46 counties in both states broke their minimum temperature
records for the winter. Highlighting the extreme warmth, Cass and Traill in North Dakota were nearly 17 degrees F above their normal minimum temperatures. Within Cass County, Fargo surpassed their previous average temperature record by 4.4 degrees F and their average minimum temperature by 4.8 degrees.

Late February brought the return of fire weather, with a large fire breaking out
near North Platte, Nebraska. 71,000 acres burned in just a day and a disaster
was declared by the state, however, minimal damage occurred due to the
sparse population.

Regional Climate Overview for December 2023 – February 2024

Temperature and Precipitation Anomalies

In typical El Niño fashion, temperatures were well above normal for the region.
December and February brought record warmth, but January was below
normal due to the single but very cold air outbreak. North Dakota recorded its
warmest winter on record, while the majority of the region ranked in the top 5.

Precipitation was above normal for the southern and eastern parts of the basin, while the northwestern portions were below normal. December was unusually wet in the Dakotas, with 11 counties ranking wettest. Several winter storms impacted the southeastern parts of the Basin in January, while February was nearly bone-dry for eastern Nebraska and parts of the Dakotas.

Departure from Normal Temperature (°F) (top)
and Percent of Normal Precipitation (bottom) for the Winter of 2023-2024

Snow Drought This Winter

The map below shows the percent of normal snowfall for this winter, with
shades of red/yellow representing below normal and shades of blue/
green meaning above-normal. Typical of an El Niño pattern, snowfall was
below normal in the northern basin. Parts of northern Wyoming were 30
inches below their normal snowfall this winter.

December 1, 2023 to February 29, 2024

Regional Impacts for December 2023 – February 2024


Warmer temperatures led farmers to begin fieldwork much earlier than
usual, with soybeans already planted in some parts of Nebraska. Winter
wheat is also highly susceptible to frost this spring after breaking
dormancy early. Calving was easier this year due to lower snowfall and
warmer temperatures, however, these conditions have led to early
insect emergence.

Water Resources

Snowpack by mid-March was at 75 percent in the Northern Rockies. Runoff will likely be well below normal, with potential implications for irrigators and navigation this summer. Rivers in the northern portions of the Basin were ice-free at the end of February, which is several weeks ahead of a typical year. Drought conditions increased up to three classes this winter due to the dryness.


In response to the unseasonably warm temperatures, plants across
the southern part of the region began greening up weeks earlier than
usual. Spring blooming perennials were blossoming in Kansas City by
late February, which led to an earlier occurrence of seasonal allergies and
more susceptible to a late frost.

January Cold Air Outbreak

A bone-chilling cold outbreak impacted the region in the middle of January.
Combined with gusty winds, wind chills bottomed out at –70 degrees F
in North Dakota. Thousands of daily records were broken, and numerous
all-time records across the Basin. The Kansas City Chiefs playoff game ranked as the 4th coldest NFL game, with wind chills reaching –28 degrees. Helmets shattered due to the cold, and dozens of cases of frostbite were reported. 70% of frostbite cases were advised to undergo amputations.

Flowers blooming near Kansas City, Missouri, credit Doug Kluck
Manhattan, Kansas during the January cold spell, credit Matthew Sittel

Regional Outlook for April – June 2024

According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, the outlook for the upcoming season indicates increased chances of above-normal temperatures across the eastern and western portions of the Basin. Increased chances of above-normal precipitation are present in Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, and southern Montana. The rest of the Basin has equal chances of above, below, and near-normal precipitation.

El Niño influences will end and shift towards ENSO-neutral this spring. Above-normal precipitation this spring across the central portions of the Basin would be beneficial to drought conditions, however, this could lead to delays in fieldwork and planting.


EC: Equal chances of above, near, or below normal
A: Above normal, B: Below normal


EC: Equal chances of above, near, or below normal
A: Above normal, B: Below normal

MO River Basin Partners

High Plains Regional Climate Center

National Drought Mitigation Center
National Integrated Drought Information System
NOAA NWS – Central Region
NOAA NWS Climate Prediction Center
NOAA NWS Missouri Basin River Forecast Center
American Association of State Climatologists
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
USDA Northern Plains Climate Hub
Bureau of Indian Affairs – Great Plains Region

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