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SDSU Extension Climate Outlook: Cool temperatures likely to continue in May

May 2023 Temperature Outlook. In northern South Dakota, blue shaded areas favor cooler than average temperature in the month of May. White shaded areas have equal chances of wetter, drier and near average precipitation in the month of May. Source: NOAA Cl

BROOKINGS, S.D. – Temperatures are likely to remain cooler than average in May for northern South Dakota, according to a recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center. Spring and summer precipitation remains a challenge to forecasters this year, with a lot of uncertainty in the months ahead. 

“The last three months have been colder than average across South Dakota,” says Laura Edwards, SDSU Extension State Climatologist. “The outlook for May indicates that we are likely to continue with cooler temperatures as compared to normal, at least for northern South Dakota.” 

The NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center released a climate outlook for May and the three-month seasons ahead. Edwards added that north central and northeastern South Dakota were more than 10 degrees below average for the last 30 days, with some confidence that this pattern will continue at least into early May. Most of the rest of the state has been cooler than average in the last 30 days as well, but not as extreme as some northern areas have been. 

Edwards says the temperature outlook for May through July does not indicate consistent warm or cool temperatures, which may indicate swings between warm and cool periods throughout the growing season. 

From mid-March to mid-April, an area from the southwest to northeast has measured more than the typical amount of precipitation for this time of year. Most of the precipitation fell as snow, with some late snowstorms that affected travel and delayed or disrupted spring farming and ranching activities. The northwest and southeast, however, have been drier than average, in what is typically a wet time of year. 

“Typically, we are increasing precipitation in April, leading up to the months of May and June which together make up forty percent or more of our annual precipitation,” said Edwards. “This is not only a time for yards and gardens to begin greening up, but it is also essential moisture for grasslands, range and forage and to refill stock ponds for livestock.” Edwards adds that even after a wet and snowy winter, the soils can dry out quickly in the spring season once crops are established and vegetation comes out of dormancy. 

The precipitation outlook for May shows a lot of uncertainty. The NOAA report shows equal chances of getting more or less precipitation than usual. But Edwards has a glass-half-full mentality, despite the uncertainty. She says that May can still bring some timely rainfall. In combination with the cooler temperature outlook, farmers and ranchers have an opportunity to hold on to the soil moisture that was gained in the spring snowmelt season.  

Cool spring impacts on agriculture 

Cool air temperatures have kept soil temperatures cooler than typical. The snowmelt season started a couple of weeks later than usual this spring. A brief warm-up in mid-April did provide some opportunity for planting of early spring crops like oats and other small grains in the south, but the north/northeast region is still struggling to see the drier and warmer soil conditions that are required for spring planting. Planting progress for summer crops like corn and soybeans are falling behind their average dates. 

Cool, muddy conditions can also cause issues for livestock. Calving conditions have not been optimal this year with extended cold and snowy periods, and the continued cool temperatures and late season snowmelt. 

River and overland flooding has been noted in eastern South Dakota. The Big Sioux River has receded from its peak after Easter. The James River is still rising as snowmelt continues upstream in North Dakota.  

Dry and drought conditions are continuing in the western Plains and the south/southeast regions. Despite some improvements in the winter season, the shortage of precipitation in the last one to two months has limited any further gains on soil moisture. The drought outlook through July, however, favors improvement in conditions as the wettest time of year is starting soon.