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As residents of Northeast Wyoming prepare for winter, some are wondering what this season has in store

Field with snow
Emmanuel Boutet via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license
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Northeast Wyoming experienced its first snowfall a few weeks ago, with some areas receiving more than a foot of snow. It quickly melted, but lugging out shovels and other snow removal equipment is part of living in an area that is all too familiar with both the hassles of snow removal and the benefits it can provide to this semi-arid region.

For the past several years, winters have been on the mild side, marked by warmer temperatures and less snowfall. Some in the area are wondering if this winter will be like the ones before it.

According to Melissa Smith, a hydrologist and climate forecaster with the National Weather Service in Rapid City, South Dakota, there is a good chance that this winter will be like the ones that preceded it.

"For those that remember, last February, it seemed like that was when we had our wintertime period," Smith said. "Most of the winter really wasn't too bad, but by the time we got to February, temperatures were a lot colder than average. We could be seeing something similar again this year, considering that we were in a La Nina last year."

A La Nina event, which occurred last year and this year, shifts the jet stream, which then brings colder air to the region from Canada. Smith said this could lead to colder temperatures in December, January, and February. However, this doesn't necessarily translate into increased snowfall, which she said is a common belief.

"A lot of people think that if it's going to be colder, it's going to be snowier—it really doesn't play out that way," she said.

Northeast Wyoming and much of the West are in either severe or exceptional drought. Smith said she believes this will continue to be the case in the area for the foreseeable future.

"We've seen a lot of dry years, a lot of wet years," she said. "We typically go in patterns where we'll see five to 10 wet years, and that'll be followed by five to 10 dry years. It's more likely than not that they’re going to continue."

Only eight percent of the moisture Northeast Wyoming gets comes during the winter and the conditions, however wet or dry they might be, don't translate into what the spring might bring. In the Big Horns, approximately 20 percent of the annual moisture comes from snowfall.

"The La Nina right now doesn't give us any indication one way or another if we'll be on the higher end or the lower end [of precipitation]," she stated.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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