Future weather conditions for Nebraska depend on how long this winter's unseasonably cold temperatures remain and the amount of precipitation in the coming spring months, says Al Dutcher, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln state climatologist.
Dutcher says that this winter's temperatures have averaged 3 to 6 degrees below normal.
Precipitation this spring could become a benefit or a hindrance to agricultural interests across the state depending on location.
"Soil across central and eastern Nebraska has benefited from bountiful moisture last August, September and December." he says. "Unfortunately, the Panhandle as well as portions of southwest and west central Nebraska have below normal soil moisture levels."
More moisture would be welcome for drought-plagued western Nebraska but would increase flooding risks for the remainder of the state.
"There doesn't seem to be anyone caught in the middle," Dutcher says. "You're either exceptionally dry or exceptionally wet."
Dutcher expects planting delays across central and eastern Nebraska if normal- to above-normal moisture falls during April and May.
"Unfortunately, if western producers expect to see significant relief from their long-term drought, their eastern counterparts will have to endure muddy fields," he says.
Projected snow melt from the Upper Platte River basin is projected to be above normal, but the two largest Wyoming reservoirs are around 20% full. Most of that water will not make its way downstream since the Pathfinder and Seminoe Reservoirs capture the snow melt. Therefore, inflows into Lake McConaughy will depend on releases from Glendo Reservoir and surface runoff from Glendo to McConaughy.
McConaughy is at 38% capacity, compared to 32.6 percent at this time last year, which represents an additional 100,000 acre feet of water in storage. Its elevation is only a foot lower than last year's peak elevation. With normal moisture upstream of the reservoir during the next two months, the lake could reach 45% of capacity this year before irrigation releases, he says.
"It is going to take several years of above-normal snowfall within the basin, or a 1993-style flooding event, before McConaughy ever completely returns to a normal pool," Dutcher says.
Future severe weather may be affected by the chilly winter as well. Dutcher says that snowpack levels are high around the world and near record snowpacks exist across portions of the Rocky, Cascade and Sierra Mountains. With deep snowpacks across northern Canada and the Rockies, cold air sources will be available well into spring.
As low pressure systems work across the U.S., larger temperature gradients could potentially be seen south and north of surface lows. These gradients could lead to an increased risk for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, Dutcher says.
"Our peak season (for severe weather) is late April through early June. If the trend of large-scale severe weather outbreaks that dominated the past 30 days continues, then we can expect to see exceptionally active weather across the central plains this spring."