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Forecasts predict a warmer winter, but there could still be deep freezes

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Todd Johnson / OSU Agricultural Communications Services
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Logan County livestock producer Marka Acton braves the elements to ensure her cattle have access to quality hay in a bale feeder.

This year’s winter in the south, including Oklahoma, will be warmer and drier between December and February due to La Niña, according to an outlook report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That doesn’t mean there won’t be extreme weather like the deep freezes in October 2020 and last February.

La Niña is a climate pattern that occurs in the Pacific Ocean, which pushes the jetstream farther to the north, which leaves the southern region out of the storm track, Gary McManus, Oklahoma’s state climatologist said.

Although La Niña generally brings overall milder, drier winters, it doesn’t predict day-to-day weather, McManus said.

“It doesn't say we're going to get, you know, day after day of above normal temperatures,” McManus said. “It just means as we get past that timeframe (December through February), and we look back and average it together, the odds are tilted towards a warmer and drier than normal winter. That's the difference between weather and climate.”

Staying prepared

Stacy Simunek, a farmer and rancher in Kay and Grant counties in north central Oklahoma, said he hasn’t dealt with severe winter weather like last year’s since 25-30 years ago. He said the February storm was a surprise.

“A heavy freeze there in February was a pretty big shock to most of us,” Simunek said.

He said he was lucky last year because his ponds were full — water was running in the nearby creeks and didn’t freeze over in the cold snaps. This year, he worries it might be different. The ponds are lower, and the ground is dry, he said.

If the ponds are too low, he will have to turn to his wells for water for the cattle. And last year was already a big scare when rolling blackouts caused heaters that warm the pump houses to go out.

“If we lose electricity for two hours and our heaters go off in those pump houses, everything's [frozen],” Simunek said. “The damage to that is astronomical to get those things back up and running. So concerns without a doubt, definite concerns.”

This year, Simunek is making some changes, like putting out about 300 bales of straw for bedding to keep the cows warm. He’s also digging his ponds deeper to try to prevent freezes.

“Making some changes and prayers that rains come and fill those ponds before we have that cold weather,” he said. “But you’ve got to be ready for it, if it doesn't (rain), because it's not pointing that way.”

Wildfire potential looms

McManus encourages farmers and ranchers to pay attention to weekly forecasts and prepare accordingly. He also encourages people to be wildfire aware because a lot of vegetation is dry.

“If we continue this way, and especially if that long term outlook holds true, and we do have a warmer and drier than normal winter, our wildfire season could be a little bit more severe,” McManus said.

Seth Bodine was KOSU's agriculture and rural issues reporter from June 2020 to February 2022.
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