A warmer winter caused by El Niño means snow will melt more quickly, and students won’t have to endure the bitter cold as long to make it to class. But a warmer winter might not be in everyone’s favor.
El Niño is a natural phenomenon where Pacific surface temperatures rise and cause climactic changes in regions across the globe. In South Dakota, this creates an overall warmer winter season.
With El Niño moving in and creating higher temperatures and warmer weather than average, students are expecting a change in how the winter season affects their activities at home and at South Dakota State.
One student organization affected by higher temperatures and melting snow is the Nordic Skiing Club on campus. Peder Solberg, a member of the club, was uncertain if the team would be able to compete in a race over President’s Day weekend because of a lack of snow.
Higher temperatures cause the snow to melt and make it nearly impossible for members to race. During their season, the trails may be covered with patches of snow but do not have enough snow to race over.
“[I]f you get some snow, grab your opportunity when you have a chance,” said SDSU climatologist Dennis Todey in an interview with the South Dakota Department of Agriculture.
The warmer winter weather will affect South Dakota agriculture as well.
This year’s El Niño is one of the top three strongest in the last 65 years, Todey said. Predicting and analyzing how the weather will affect South Dakota agriculture will prepare farmers for the next year.
“When we have El Niño or La Niña, we have the ability to tell what’s going to happen with better certainty ahead,” Todey said.
By relying on the predictions from climatologists and meteorologists like Todey, companies and farmers can anticipate how the next year will change. Scott Fox, a junior agronomy major, gave an example that a warmer winter meant a company was able to spread fertilizer earlier in the year, which will help with the crops during growing season.
But this year’s weather has been “extremely bad” for cattle feedlots across the state, Fox said.
The fluctuating temperatures are hard on the livestock because it makes wetter conditions, which soak the ground and make feedlots muddy. Having fluctuating temperatures around 32 degrees, like this winter, is hard on the cattle because it makes them more susceptible to illness.
Warmer temperatures aren’t any easier on farms, said Angel Kramer, an agronomy and agricultural leadership double major.
Problems with bacteria and insects living through the winter in her family farm’s soil could cause potential problems later in the year. The warmer weather also makes it harder to till the fields once the time comes.
But both Fox and Kramer said they can work around the problems the El Niño weather can cause.
Setting up bedding for the cattle is an improvement when the weather fluctuates, Fox said.
In the case of farming soybeans or corn, new breeds can be brought up to South Dakota over time for farmers to more easily work with the warmer weather.
“Farmers are constantly adapting to warmer weather and changing weather,” Kramer said. “We’ll adapt to this winter to get out there and in the field.”