Outlook: Winter 2014/2015
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
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
2 – The 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.
3 – The 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.
4 – The 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
5 – The 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
6 – The 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.
7 – Eastern 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.