More ice hash — a dish of extreme cold — is being served to the Williston region, whether you have any appetite for it or not.
The forecast predicts a high of 5 to 6 below zero on Saturday and 3 below on Sunday, with lows of minus 22 and 26 below.
The latter, 26 below, is the current record for March 3. Both days will be within range of the record for coldest high.
“This February has been especially on the cold side,” National Weather Service meteorologist Alex Edwards said. “The average temperature for February as of yesterday was 5 below. Which is quite low, considering that is a high and low. That’s the average temperature at any given point in the day.”
That ranks as the second coldest February on record. The last time it was colder was in 1936, when the average was 13.6 below.
“So we are a ways off of that, but it’s still not a normal stat for us, especially in the past few years,” Edwards said.
Both 2018 and 2017 had one day that cold. And from 2012 to 2016, there was one day or fewer that cold.
“This year, a third of the month has been spent below zero,” Edwards said.
Colder than usual temperatures will continue to be served through the first two weeks of March, pushing off spring for at least another couple of weeks, if not more.
“This weekend looks to be the coldest,” Edwards said. “The latter portion of the forecast shows highs in the teens and 20s, but it will be colder than normal through March 22 and for March in general.”
This new wave of extreme cold is coming along about the same time as calving season.
“Adult cattle are pretty hardy,” said National Weather Service hydrologist Alan Schlag, who is also a cattle rancher. “I think the biggest concern right now is that we are rapidly finding ourselves in calving season here and with these cold temperatures farmers are going to find themselves putting more effort into taking care of those newborn calves, certainly for the next couple of weeks.”
Colder than usual temperatures this winter have so for not resulted in large numbers of cattle lost to extreme temperatures, according to the Farm Service Agency in Williston. Just one death has been reported so far. But farmers have 30 days after a livestock death to report losses for the Livestock Indemnity Program, and many often do wait until the deadline to report, or don’t report at all unless they lose two, which is the minimum to qualify for LIP assistance.
Now that younger cattle are hitting the ground, however, the extreme cold becomes an even greater challenge.
“We are probably two weeks way from peak calving season,” Schlag said.
Soil moisture, meanwhile, is a bit more complicated than might be expected for the upcoming spring planting season.
There is a lot of moisture sitting on the ground right now, and moisture for the winter season is sitting above normal at 4.38 inches. The normal is 3.17 inches.
“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, though,” Schlag explained.
The soil was dry going into November. There was a snow in November that largely melted off, and another in December that also melted off. That put moisture down into the surface layer of soil, from 4 to 10 inches deep, Schlag said.
But then the extreme polar cold came and froze that surface layer before it was was able to penetrate any deeper.
“That’s kind of the issue I think going forward this spring,” he said. “We have plenty of water sitting on top of the ground across the state right now. But underneath the snowpack, I think the ground is by and large fairly impermeable this spring, and most of the water we have sitting on top of the ground is going to run off before it soaks in.”
That could leave the lower soil horizon, 18 to 30 inches down, still drier than normal, and only the upper 4 to 10 inches wetter than usual.
“We just can’t push any more moisture into the soil, even though there is plenty above ground, because of that,” Schlag said.
The silver lining to this, however, is that the runoff will likely help to replenish stock dams and dugouts throughout northwestern North Dakota, which Schlag said had run pretty low.
“Those will get built back up,” Schlag said.