After one winter, the National Weather Service in North Dakota is scrapping the use of extreme cold watches and warnings in favor of the tried and true wind chill advisories and warnings.
The weather service last winter tested the idea of issuing the extreme cold weather watches and warnings in three states: North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.
John Paul Martin, warning coordination meteorologist for the weather service in Bismarck, said the intent of the test was to have a warning system available for times of extreme cold when there was little or no wind.
“Unfortunately, last year was not a good trial year,” Martin said, referring to the unusually mild winter.
He said only one extreme cold warning was issued for Burleigh County and just three for other areas outside of the Bismarck-Mandan service area.
Wind chill advisories are issued when temperatures are between 25 below and 39 below zero with at least a 5 mph wind. Wind chill warnings are issued when the air temperature is 40 below or colder with at least a 5 mph wind.
Martin said one of the issues with last winter’s trial was some areas involved in the test didn’t want to continue for a second or third winter as was the original plan.
He said in markets like Minneapolis, the weather service also serves areas of Wisconsin, which was not part of the trial, and advisories and warnings were issued differently.
For instance, while the Twin Cities might have been under an extreme cold warning, Wisconsin was still issuing wind chill warnings.
There was some confusion, Martin said. “Our No. 1 concern is that users understand our products and services.”
The confusion created was a legitimate concern, he said. Another factor in deciding to abandon the trial was North Dakota’s growing population.
Native North Dakotans are well aware of the dangers associated with wind chill warnings.
If it’s 20 below with no wind, Martin said, many North Dakotans would consider it an average winter day. That would not be the case for many people new to the area, he said.
And unlike other weather forecasting outlets, Martin said the National Weather Service in North Dakota will not be naming winter storms.
Martin said other storms like hurricanes are more organized and easier to track.
That’s not the case with most winter storms, especially in North Dakota.
“We are, in many cases, the birth place of a lot of winter storms,” Martin said.
North Dakota is at a crossroads of sorts when it comes to winter weather with frigid Arctic air from the north, systems moving in from the mountains and moist air pushing into to the region from the Gulf of Mexico.
The storm may develop here, Martin said, but it’s often difficult to anticipate where it will go, especially in the early stages.