Grand Forks’ 2021 among warmest years on record

Six of the 10 warmest years for which there are full records have occurred since 2005.

Grand Forks Weather Chart January 2021.png
Daily temperature data for Grand Forks, showing normal temperature ranges since 1893 (in brown) along with observed temperatures in 2021 (in dark blue). In red are historic record maximum temperatures and in light blue are record lows.

GRAND FORKS — The region's weather was historically warm during 2021, part of a trend in recent years of hotter weather in the northern Red River Valley.

According to National Weather Service data, the average 2021 temperature in Grand Forks was about 43.1 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes it the fifth-hottest year in the area for which the organization has complete data. Six of the 10 warmest years for which there are full records have occurred since 2005 (records go back to 1893, with completeness increasing significantly since 1920).

And that average heat comes despite notable cold snaps in February and December, as well as smoke cover through much of the summer, UND atmospheric scientist Aaron Kennedy points out.

“We had a summer that was above normal, slightly above normal, and yet, the smoke probably helped us stay cooler than we otherwise would have been,” Kennedy said. “Basically, the entire month of July and August was smoke every single day. That smoke can have a cooling effect during the daytime.”

The new NWS data comes at the close of a remarkable year for the weather, during which the county also experienced significant dry periods — even drawing comparisons to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration measured North Dakota’s precipitation from September 2020 to August 2021 as among the driest such periods on record.


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The high heat and unusually dry conditions raise questions about how much North Dakota’s climate is changing, and how much of it is tied to global climate change — something NASA notes is “unequivocally the result of human activity” like greenhouse gas emissions.

“Temperature is just one aspect of climate change, and overall, for this area and this region the consistent trend is longer growing seasons,” Kennedy said. “Which, you don’t get a longer growing season unless it’s warmer more often. That’s consistent with having a lot of warmer years in this area.”

NOAA’s data for December hasn’t been released yet, and could differ slightly from NWS data. But NOAA data also shows a long-term warming trend in Grand Forks County, with temperatures trending upward an average of 0.4 degrees every decade between 1940 and the present.

If the temperature changes that come with climate change are straightforward — with notably longer summers — then predictions about what happens to rain and snow are much harder to make.

“Some of our biggest precipitation systems, that water is originating from places like the Gulf of Mexico. Whether climate change is a wetter or drier situation for us is dependent to what happens to the jet stream and how the jet stream changes,” Kennedy said. “Science-wise, that’s probably one of the biggest arguments in the field right now.”

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