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A Dakota Wesleyan University student walks to class in shorts as the temperature rises Wednesday afternoon in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

Cold and hot, but a record it's not

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This winter's run of extreme cold and this week's warm-up have been memorable, but not historic.

Tuesday's high of 54 degrees in Mitchell was followed by 58 degrees Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. They were the warmest temperatures of the season so far.

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"When there's no snow cover on the ground, it can get pretty mild and that makes it much easier to reach those warmer temperatures," said Billy Williams, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls.

Points farther west in south-central South Dakota experienced temperatures in the 60s on Wednesday, including 64 degrees in Chamberlain, 63 degrees in Winner and 61 degrees in Lake Andes. The National Weather Service also reported a 61 degree high temperature in Platte, 60 degrees in Gregory and 58 degrees in Parkston.

The 58 degrees in Mitchell was the highest temperature since Nov. 18, 2013, when the local high was 61 degrees.

However, the recent temperatures are not records, even for February in Mitchell. The local record high for Feb. 18 is 71 degrees, set in 1930, and the local record for Feb. 19 is 67 degrees in 1996. Normal temperatures for Feb. 18 in Mitchell are a high of 35 and a low of 15, and Mitchell was 14 degrees above normal with a recorded low of 29 degrees for Feb. 18.

"Compared to what we've had, it's certainly warm and it's well above normal," Williams said. "But it's just a warm-up."

It turns out that the rough stretches of cold weather won't be very notable in the history books, either. Williams said that while it was bitterly cold in December, January and early February, none of those months cracked the top 10 for coldest months ever in Mitchell, because the cold was not consistent enough. For example, in each of December, January and February, Mitchell recorded at least one day with a high of 50 degrees or more, and the historically cold winters usually are persistent for the entire month. Williams said December 1983 was one that particularly stood out, with an average temperature of 2.1 degrees.

The only historically notable month so far in 2013-14 in the Mitchell area was in Kennebec, where the month of December landed in that city's historical top 10 cold months. The National Weather Service in Aberdeen reported that the December average temperature in Kennebec was 14.8 degrees, more than seven degrees below normal. Snow cover and short days contributed to near-record December cold in Pierre, Watertown and Aberdeen, as well.

Mitchell snow totals have tapered off month-by-month this winter. After 4 inches in November and 11.4 inches in December (including a season-high 5.5 inches Dec. 4), only eight-tenths of an inch fell in January and 3.2 inches have been recorded for the month of February to date, for a total of 19.4 inches of snowfall this winter.

And in what is probably an unsurprising turn of events, the Mitchell area is destined for a return to winter's colder side this weekend.

Temperatures are expected to move back to the 30s today, and a chance of snow is in the forecast for the late afternoon, with winds potentially gusting up to 45 miles per hour. Friday also carries a chance of snow and temperatures around 30 degrees before the weekend brings highs in the mid-20s and partly cloudy skies.

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