The new year came in like a lamb, with a chance for a lion-like winter raising its head in north-central Montana being downgraded and pushed further back. The weather forecast for this week looks more like an early summer prediction than the cold, snowy winter that was predicted last fall, although time still remains for Old Man Winter to make his appearance in the area.
The local forecast calls for a high near 60 degrees — more than 30 degrees warmer than the norm — in Havre for Wednesday with mostly sunny, breezy conditions.
That follows a forecast made in the fall of a heavy winter hitting the area after Christmas.
Don Emanuel, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Great Falls, said the chance of a heavy winter still is there — the latest prediction gives a 40-percent chance of both below-normal temperature and above-normal snowfall from January through March — but not in the next week or so.
“We’re already into January, ” he added. “As we get further into the season, (severe winter weather) becomes less likely, but there’s quite a bit of winter left. ”
The area saw a heavy winter that hit — and stuck — early in 2010, with snow falling in mid-November and staying till late in the spring, and with weather below zero degrees on several days before Christmas. However, fall and early winter in 2011 has been extremely mild. Few snowfalls have occurred in north-central Montana, with those generally melting off quickly. Few days have had highs below freezing; and many lows have been higher than 32.
Two record temperatures have been set in Havre since Christmas Day, with the highs hitting records of 58 last Wednesday and 54 Friday.
Emanuel said the Havre average temperature for December was 10 degrees higher than the normal average for the month. It also was a very dry month, with the precipitation that fell being a third-of-an-inch less than normal.
The wet winter, spring and early summer still left Havre with slightly less than an inch above normal for the year at the end of December, despite an extremely dry fall.
Emanuel said the warm weather is expected to stick around for several days.
“There are indications that the pattern may start to change by the end of next week, ” he said.
The early forecast calling for a heavy winter looked at several conditions in different parts of the world that can impact weather in Montana, including lower-than-normal temperatures on the equatorial central and eastern Pacific Ocean known as La Niña.
That condition tends to bring colder-than-normal winter temperatures with higher-than-normal precipitation to the Northwest and across Montana and the Northern Plains. It also tends to bring warmer-than-normal and drier-than-normal winter conditions to the south, which could spell trouble for areas experiencing a severe drought like New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.
Emanuel said the La Niña conditions still exist, but are not as strong as in the 2010-11 winter, and not as strong as was expected this winter.
The meteorology organization AccuWeather still was predicting in the first part of December that La Niña will bring some winter to the northern parts of the country.
“The AccuWeather.com Long-Range Forecasting Team still expects a stormy winter for the (United States,) with the worst in terms of snow and cold targeting the Midwest and interior Northwest, ” meteorologist Meghan Evans posted on the organization’s website Dec. 8.
Jan. 2 High-low: 44°/10°; Historical normal 28°/6°
Jan. 1 High-low: 31°/3°; Historical normal 28°/6°
Dec. 31 High-low: 40°/11°; Historical normal 28°/6°
Dec. 30 High-low: 54°/23°(record high); Historical normal 28°/6°
Dec. 29 High-low: 52°/26°; Historical normal 28°/6°
Dec. 28 High-low: 57°/36°(record high); Historical normal 28°/6°
Dec. 27 High-low: 46°/21°; Historical normal 28°/6°
Dec. 26 High-low: 44°/18°; Historical normal 28°/6°
Dec. 25 High-low: 49°/33°; Historical normal 29°/6°