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Seasonal Outlook: Winter 2014/2015

(Released: October 15, 2014)  

My guess is that most folks eyes jump to the graphic and then less than half end up here. For those of you that did and are wondering why everyone else and their cousin is calling for an even more harsh winter than last and this jack-wagon I is not, my reasons are below. I am sure that most of you are familiar with my feelings on seasonal weather forecasting, but for those of you that have not done so already, you might want to check out my "Soap Box Speech on Seasonal Weather Forecasting". The bottom line is, no one should be making any serious decisions, such as buying/not buying a sled or gear based on this or any outlook.

While the consensus of most other winter outlooks is for an even colder and snowier winter than last, I felt pretty comfortable back in April thinking that areas of the upper Midwest that saw the coldest Jan-March (pink and dark blue shading in figure 1) on record were not going to repeat that task again this coming winter. Those types of weather anomalies on a seasonal scale only happen every 15-20 years or more.

That alone would not cause me to say that the upcoming winter for most of the Midwest would be milder than average, with most areas also likely seeing less than average snow. That conclusion comes courtesy of our good friend El Nino. To be truthful, there is not officially an El Nino going on as I type this, but conditions are very close to being categorized as El Nino and are headed in that direction, so I think there is probably a 70% chance that one will exist by the time winter arrives. Even if conditions to not reach the threshold where an El Nino can be officially declared, I think that the water and atmospheric conditions where El Nino occur will still have a strong enough influence on our weather here in the Midwest to bring about the types of weather anomalies associated with El Nino.

So in a nutshell, I think that there is a greater than average chance that most of the north central US (including the northern ½ of the Midwest/Plains/Rockies) will see a warmer than average winter, with average to below average snowfall. Please note: this does not mean that we are guaranteed to have a terrible winter, or one that is not worth the trouble. To be optimistic, it could mean that there will still be plenty of snow-play opportunities to be had this winter, but that chances for some thaws and precip other than rain will also be greater than average, but not a for-sure thing.

This same thinking goes for all of the different regions talked about below. There are no guarantees with the weather- especially at a seasonal scale! Plus, even an El Nino goes not guarantee specific weather anomalies will occur, it just increases the odds.

So without further ado, here is the breakdown by region:

REGION 1 – The Northwest Midwest: After one of the coldest winters on record for many areas, coupled with above average snowfall and an extremely long that-free period, this winter looks to try and even out the score for this region. Keep in mind that even the most poor winters (which is not what I am saying we are in for) there is typically periods where the conditions for snow-play are excellent. So this winter will likely provide some excellent snow-play periods, but some closer attention to the weather and current conditions may need to be had.
As is almost always the case, the lake snow belts will be least affected by any lack of snowfall and milder temps,  but will also not be immune. It is most likely going to be a scenario where the further north you go the better chances you will have for snow to play in.

REGION 2The Southeast Midwest: I see this area to be sort of a hybrid between the NW Midwest (region 1) and the NE US (region 3). Thus, I see the northern half of this region to see warmer than average temps and less than average snows. I have my doubts that the El Nino will be strong enough to completely shut out these areas for snow-play, but instead of counting the season in months, it will more likely be counted in weeks.
The southern ½ of this region will likely see above average snowfall and slightly below average temps. This is not exactly big snow country, so even with these conditions, the snow-play will be limited, but if an El Nino does end up coming to fruition, then I would not be surprised to see one or more large snow storms impact the southern ½ of region 2.

REGION 3The Northeast US: This is a region that can actually benefit some from an El Nino. For the far north, there is a bias towards cooler than average winters and for the central and south, there is an increased chance for Nor’Easters to develop out of lows passing through the southern US. So for folks living in this region and hearing other winter outlooks calling for a colder and snowier one than last winter, this may be the case.

REGION 4The Northern Rockies: This region is typically impacted by El Ninos in a negative way. Not so much with the temps, as most of the snow-play is done in elevations that are immune to warm winters. However, the main storm track in El Nino winters typically happens to the south of this region and thus the result is for less than average snowfall. Even so, I would not be cancelling any trips to ride out west. Even their poor winters would be considered epic by most Midwest standards.

REGION 5The Central Rockies: As with the northern Rockies, I see the northern ½ of this region to see less than average snowfall occur, but departures will not likely be as large as to the north. Plus, the southern 1/3rd of this region could end up with above average snowfall in the higher terrain, as El Nino will tend to make the storm track across the southern Rockies more active.

REGION 6The Pacific NW and Sierra Range: Most of this region will likely see above average precipitation result in above average snowfall for the higher terrain. It has been several years since the CA mountains saw a great winter and I think the odds are stacked in their favor for that to happen. The northern ½ of this region will likely see a busier than average storm track, but the result will not seem or be as dramatic as that to the south. The further north you go, the less positive influence El Nino will have on snow-play.

REGION 7Eastern Canada: Take off you hoser! The story for eastern Ontario, most of Quebec and the Maritime Provinces is pretty similar to the Northeast US.  Meaning that I believe the winter will be cooler than average, with the chances for above average snowfall getting better the closer and closer you get to the coastline.
Further east, in areas of eastern Ontario, the snows will likely be lighter than average and if you get far enough east, there may even be some areas that end up being milder than average for the winter.
But hey, it’s Canada eh?  It’s winter eh? Break out the tuque and lets go Ski-Dooing!