Outlook: Winter 2015/2016
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
OK, the usual disclaimer is over, it is time to get down
to business. The good news is that there is a higher than average confidence
level in the outlook for this winter. The bad news is that things do not look
good for just about all of the northern US.
El Nino has reared its ugly head in the central
equatorial Pacific and has only been growing stronger since late last
winter/early spring (Figure
1). Current forecasts call for a leveling out of the sea surface
temps through this winter and then cooling to commence next spring, but a
moderate El Nino is likely to continue through most of this winter.
So El Nino will be the gorilla in the room this
winter, what does that mean? I think the two most important things to recognize
with El Nino are:
I am going to let the graphic do most of the ugly
talking, but will add that while the news looks quite bleak for this winter
across most of the northern US, there will still be snows that fall and periods
of decent snow-play across the northern US this winter.
I also caution against the late-October/early November
“head fake” that can sometimes happen when an El Nino is happening. This
“head fake” is a 1-3 week period of below average temps and even sometimes a
significant snow event for portions of the upper Midwest. This can lead to false
expectations of a cold and snowy pattern setting up for the winter.
So without further ado, here is the breakdown by
1 – The Northwest Midwest: The news is not good. El Nino typically causes temps
to be well above average and also snowfall to be a bit below average. There will
be snows that fall, I can guarantee that. The problems will be an increased
potential for periods of thaws and snow loss. So while this area will still
probably be the best bet for snowplay east of the Rockies, one will have to
watch the forecast closer and perhaps chase storms more than is usual. Lake
snows will likely be less than average as well, but will still provide the best
and freshest snow east of the Rockies.
2 – The Southeast Midwest: The news for this region is not good as well.
While temperature departures may not be as large for the season as they are in
the NW Midwest, the NW Midwest is a much cooler region on average. Thus, this
region will still see some snow storms, perhaps even a doozie, but struggle with
more frequent thaws and low snowcover.
3 – The Northeast US: This is always a tricky region when an El Nino is
happening. The signals for above average temps and below average snowfall are
not as strong as they are in the north central US, but strong El Ninos in the
past 30-40 years have typically produced above average temps and below average
snowfall and that is the way I am leaning for this winter. I can add that like
last year, there is an increased chance for Nor’Easters to develop out of lows
passing through the southern US. So there may be some periods of excitement for
folks living in this region this winter.
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 and well to the north of this
region and thus the result is for less than average snowfall. So after a pretty
lack-luster winter last year, this one is looking to be only slightly better.
5 – The Central Rockies: As with the northern Rockies, I see the
northern ˝ 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 ˝
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: 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 a bit warmer than average, with
the snowfall to run below average. The exceptions being folks wanting to venture
far enough in the northern Maritimes to be able to partake in what might be
another banner snow year.