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Seasonal Outlook: Winter 2013/2014

(Released: November 4, 2013)





Just kidding! There will be a winter. 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".

As if there wasn’t already a significant lacking in tools when it comes to seasonal weather forecasting, one of the most useful tools, El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), looks to provide little in the way of help this season. Figure 1 indicates the current status of the sea surface temps around the globe and the area within the blue outline is the region where the ENSO happens. As the figure illustrates, the sea surface temps in most of the region are near average. La Nada as it has been coined by some.

Figure 2 is the plot of the different forecast models for the sea surface temps in the heart of the ENSO region and it indicates that the general idea is for the SST’s to become slightly positive (El Nino), but not to the degree that a full blown El Nino would be declared. The ENSO number needs to be greater than 0.5 to be an El Nino and less than -0.5 to be a La Nina.

So if all goes as indicated, it does not look like an El Nino or La Nina will occur this winter and thus will not have an impact on the winter across North America. So much for that useful tool! There are some other things that some forecasters like to use, but I believe either they do not fully understand what these things are, or are just trying to sound smart by using the terms. Things like the MJO are really more of a several week type of tool and things like the NAO and AO are just was to describe the state of the atmosphere and no more a forecast tool than the global models. That leaves just final trick up my sleeve. That being to consult with my three college buddies….Jack Daniels, Jim Beam and Captain Morgan. J I have spent the past few nights in consultation with all three and below is what we were able to come up with.

The overall Jetstream has seemed to set itself up in a position where the below average temps and above average precip is centered across the western US, more specifically the northern 2/3rds of the Rockies. The further east you go, the more things have wanted to be warmer than average for the past few weeks. The east coast of the US has been in quite mild temps for many weeks and any of the cold shots have been brief and some have even fizzled out before they arrived. The central US has seen some bouts of cold, but has also spent almost equal time in warmer than average temps.

This same setup is what I expect to continue for roughly the first half of the winter (through December and most of January, perhaps even into early Feb). The second half of the winter I feel that the Jetstream will re-align in a position where ridging will occur in the western US, with a trough in the east.

Thus, I think the areas like the Pacific NW as well as into the northern ½ to 2/3rds of the Rockies (roughly from central UT/southern CO north will get off to a cold and snowy start to the winter and see that continue into mid-winter, then temps will flip to above average,  with snows running below average.

Areas like the central US will see average to perhaps above average snowfall (best chances for above occurring the further north you go) for the first half of the winter and then the mid-winter flip in the pattern will lead to colder than average temps, but also drier than average conditions, so less snow for most of the region.

The eastern US will get off to a slow start, with mild temps and less than average snowfall through mid-winter and then the pattern will flip and below average temps and above average snowfall will take over for the rest of the winter.

Below I will go into greater detail for the different regions of the US:

REGION 1 – The Northwest Midwest: After a very slow start to the winter, I believe that this winter will start with close to average results. This means that the northern ½ of MN, northern ¼ to 1/3rd of WI, all of the UP and northern ¼ of lower MI (what I like to refer to as the “Northwoods”) should have enough snow to play in by the first or second week of December and not the second to third week of January like last winter. The areas most likely to see the deepest snow the earliest are the traditional ones…the lake snow belts of the UP of MI.  I then see most of this region to run average to a bit above average in the snow department and close to average in the temp department through mid-winter or sometime from late Jan, possibly into mid-Feb. A change in the overall upper air pattern will then switch the flow in mostly out of the NW. This will bring below average temps, but also limit the amount of moisture to get into the region, resulting in below average snowfall for most areas. The exceptions possibly being the lake snow belts of the UP, where the NW flow could lead to persistent and heavy lake snows, as long as Lake Superior remains largely unfrozen. So the bottom line is a pretty good season, with a decent building of the base and then the cold ending to preserve most of the snow until the traditional snow-play season ends.

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 first half of the winter to run above average in temps and below average in snowfall, although I do believe that there will be snows that fall during the first half of the winter, perhaps even a big storm or two. The main problem will be the warm ups that occur between snow events and the potential for something other than snow to fall, even in the dead of winter. The second half of the winter looks to bring better chances for snow, along with below average temps. The main storm track may occur to the east of this region, but they may still see some snow storms occur and cold temps to minimize the snow loss.

REGION 3The Northeast US: As stated above, I think this region will get off to a slow start. The milder than average setup that has developed in the past few weeks will likely remain the dominate feature through mid-winter. That does not mean that the region will remain snow-free, just that the main storm track will be further west and many of the precip events early in the winter will be rain, rather than snow. As we work through the  middle of the winter, the change in the pattern I think could occur will lead to a marked change in the storm track and the region could be impacted by several strong storms that bring snows to the traditional snow areas of the NE US. Cold air following the systems will also lead to above average lake effect in the LES belts of the eastern Great Lake. So patience may be the key for folks in this region.

REGION 4The Northern Rockies: Snows have already been piling up at the higher elevations in this region. While that is not highly unusual, many of the snows that have fallen are sticking around. I see this region to continue to see an active storm track through the first half of winter, resulting in abundant snowfall. The second half of winter could be a different story, with ridging to persist in the upper air pattern and thus a much quieter pattern to result in below average snowfall and above average temps. Not a lack of snow and a meltdown, just a quitter and warmer setup.

REGION 5The Central Rockies: As with the northern Rockies, I see the northern ½ of this region to continue to see an active storm track through the first half of winter, resulting in abundant snowfall. The southern ½ may struggle a bit more to see the storms and thus the snows, but not way below average. The second half of winter could be a different story, with ridging to persist in the upper air pattern and thus a much quieter pattern to result in below average snowfall and above average temps. Not a lack of snow and a meltdown, just a quitter and warmer setup.

REGION 6The Pacific NW and Sierra Range: The northern ½ of this region falls in the same boat as regions 4 and 5, in that an active storm pattern will pile up the snows at a fairly decent clip for the first half of the winter and then things could go pretty quiet in all but the mountains of western WA, where the tail end of storms could still hit as the main brunt of them hit SE Alaska/western Canada.  As for the southern ½ of this region. I see things to be less snowy and milder than average for all of the winter. This does not mean no snow, just storms that are fewer and further between.

REGION 7Eastern Canada: Take off you hoser! The story for most of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime Provinces is pretty similar to the Northeast US.  Meaning that I believe the start to winter will be milder and less snowy than average and then a change in the overall pattern across North America will lead to very snowy and cold conditions for the second half of the period. The northern reaches of this region (north of a line from the north shore of Lake Superior to the north shore of the Gaspe) could actually see a good start and good finish.