Updated Winter 2017-2018 Forecast

Welcome to (Meteorological) Winter! When I issued the Winter Forecast about a month ago I said I would do a full update on December 1 and so here we are.

The themes of the original forecast were:

  1. Colder than the last couple of winters but still near or perhaps even slightly warmer than average. 
  2. Near-average snowfall. 

While presenting the forecast on TV, online and during speaking engagements I mentioned that I was “daring” the atmosphere to be cold. What I meant by that:  there has been a fairly remarkable stretch of warm weather in our region since Autumn 2015. Colder-than-average months have been quite rare. Until the atmosphere “proves” it can get cold (relative to average) the smart money is on warmth, right? So my original forecast was not that cold, despite some data suggesting a cold winter was coming.

The atmosphere looks like it is going to take me up on that dare.

What Do We Know Now That We Didn’t A Month Ago??

I’ll start with La Nina. The premise of this being a winter featuring a “weak” La Nina was certainly known a month ago but the “configuration” of the La Nina has certainly become more obvious recently. What does that mean? Well not all La Ninas are created equally. The orientation of the coldest water (relative to average) is very important. When the coldest water is close to the coast of South America (“east-based”) the atmospheric response tends to be one that favors cold weather in the eastern United States. The cold air tends to be centered farther west in North America when the coldest water in the Pacific is farther west. Here’s a look at the current water temperature anomalies (the important region is circled): 

Notice the change in the water temperatures over the last week, which shows cooling of the water in the easternmost region: 

I think this ups the odds of cold weather in our region this winter.

What else has happened in the month since the original forecast was issued? COLD weather in western and central Canada…especially when compared to last November. Check out the difference. 2016: 

2017: 

This has resulted in a good snowpack across that region and that can help “refrigerate” arctic air masses coming southward across that snowpack.

Remember that QBO thing I mentioned in my original forecast?

We have another month of QBO data under our belt now and it’s firmly in the “sweet spot” for cold weather in the East, especially when paired with a weak, east-based La Nina.

Ok So What’s The Forecast

Let’s look at this month-by-month.

Old December forecast: 

New December forecast (this is the biggest change in the forecast. December will likely be the coldest since 2010 here.): 

Old January: 

New January: 

Old February: 

New February: 

Old Winter (December-February) Forecast: 

New Winter Forecast: 

I have NOT changed the snowfall forecast. This winter may be colder than I originally thought but that does not necessarily mean snowier.

Forecast confidence has gone up since a month ago. I had temperatures in the “low” category then and for good reason.

The bottom line: I am now expecting a significantly colder winter than the last two and this winter can be more like the rather harsh seasons we had in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015. That is not to say it won’t occasionally get mild.  It will! A “January Thaw” is a distinct possibility.

Thanks for reading! Look for a video version of this forecast this evening!

 

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Winter 2017-2018 Forecast

Time once again for my annual Winter Forecast. Please feel free to watch either the short version that aired on 21 News

http://www.wfmj.com/clip/13870419/erics-annual-winter-forecast-short-version

Or the long, much more detailed version:

Before we get to the forecast, let’s do a quick recap of recent winter weather across our region. It many be surprising to some that last winter will go into the record books as fairly snowy! 69″ at the Youngstown-Warren airport is a few inches ABOVE average. Temperatures? No surprise there…it was our 2nd consecutive mild winter.

Some highlights of last winter. How did we pick up that much snow when January and February were so balmy? December and March were quite a bit snowier-than-average:

4 of the last 5 winters have been fairly “extreme” temperature-wise. 2011-2012 was quite mild; 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 were harsh and 2015-2016, 2016-2017 were quite mild.

In the snow department, most winters have been snowier-than-average since the early 2000s. Last winter was a bit above average but the previous season was way below-average.

How do we make these forecasts? 

Seasonal forecasts are much different than your standard 7-day forecast you see on TV or get on a mobile app. I can’t tell you if it will snow on January 23rd or be mild on December 17th. Seasonal forecasts deal with broad patterns, both over the United States and globally. Forecasters look at what’s going on with water temperatures in the oceans, what winds in the stratosphere are doing, what the rate of increasing snow cover over Siberia is and much more.  We truly look globally. After assessing these things, we look back at previous years that had similar conditions. These are called “analogs”.  We determine what type of winter season unfolded in those years under those conditions and then see how likely it is that this winter will play out in a similar fashion.

Additionally, we have climate models that provide temperature and precipitation forecasts over several months. These models, just like the models we use to help us make a 7-day forecast, have their strengths and weaknesses and the forecaster must know how to use them correctly. Think of a weather computer model like a hammer. It’s a tool that requires a qualified human to use it correctly. The hammer will not build a house on it’s own and is also fairly useless in the hands of someone who isn’t skilled at using it.

Lastly, experience and intuition. Learning from past mistakes is very important in all walks of life and that includes weather forecasting…whether it’s a 3-hour forecast or a 3-month forecast.

La Nina

La Nina! What is it? Put simply, it’s the cooling of the waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, near South America. Why do we care about that?? What does it have to do with our weather in Ohio and Pennsylvania?

The oceans and atmosphere play in the same sandbox known as our planet. The atmosphere can react to changes in the ocean (and vice versa). Whenever this part of the Pacific cools (or warms, the “El Nino” phase) the steering currents in the atmosphere, or jet stream, can be altered. Often (but not always!) La Nina results in a stormy pattern over the Pacific Northwest and the Ohio Valley during the cold season. The stronger the La Nina (or El Nino), the more pronounced (and easier to predict) the affects typically are over the United States.

Current water temperature anomalies: 

We also take note of pools of cool and warm water in other places, such as near Australia, the northern Pacific and near the east and west coasts of the United States.

The QBO

The what? The quasi-biennial oscillation is important and the fact that it did not behave as expected likely contributed largely to last winter’s warmth (and so-so forecasts). Have a look:

This Year’s Analogs

There are other years I could include in this list but these are probably the best matches. What do they have in common? They were weak La Nina years and most were years with an easterly, or negative QBO. Most of these years did NOT have a warm November preceding winter, which we expect this year. (the exception? LAST November, which was warm. That’s part of the reason last year is on the list despite having an opposite QBO signal)

Notice most of the years on this list were modestly cold. Most had near to somewhat below average snow. Snow data for 1996-1997 is unavailable.

When we throw all these years in the hopper and create an average, here’s what the national temperature map looks like:

The Models

So based on the chilly-looking analogs, we should predict a slightly colder-than-average winter right?? Not so fast.  Much of the modeling shows a warm winter. Now, I believe the modeling is too warm….but it can’t be completely ignored. Here’s generally what the models are showing:

My forecast is, generally speaking a blend of the models and analogs, with more weight on the analogs. More on the forecast below.

Monthly Temperatures

I foresee a somewhat mild start to winter followed by more frequent arctic blasts in January. There will be loads of cold air in western and northern Canada to tap so any arctic intrusions, even if they are brief, could be powerful (even in a mild overall December).

February could bring a less cold pattern and may shake out near average.

Here’s the map for the whole season. I’m expecting a 3-month departure from average of 0 to +2 degrees. 

Snow Forecast 

While I do expect PRECIPITATION to be above average this winter, SNOW should be pretty close to average. I expect a fair amount of “slop storms” that include chilly rains and mixed precipitation, especially in December.

It’s possible that March could be snowier-than-average again. But generally speaking I expect the snow to be divided up pretty close to climtalogical averages:

The Bottom Line 

A winter that is not as mild as the last two but not as cold as 2013-2014 and 2014-2015. My confidence is higher than last year because of a somewhat stronger La Nina signal and a more “well behaved” QBO. Temperatures are tricky. More on that below.

Impacts

Higher energy consumption this year.

What Could Go Wrong??

My confidence in the winter forecast is higher than last year but is not as high as two years ago when we have a raging El Nino. La Nina is still weak enough that other oscillations and factors can override it and dominate the pattern for stretches. These things are hard to predict more than a few weeks out.

The models could be full of baloney with their warm look. The atmosphere seems to “want” to be warm over our region (this has been the case for 2+ years) and so it’s hard to dismiss how warm the modeling is at this point.

On the flip side, if the warm November that we expect is a harbinger of the winter pattern (like last year) then my forecast is not warm enough.

Basically it comes down to this: My forecast is kind of in the middle of the warm models and cold-ish analogs. We should know more in a month, which is why:

I’ll have a full update December 1!

Blog: Summer 2017 Forecast

Astronomical Summer doesn’t begin for a few more weeks, but in meteorological circles, we define seasons a bit differently. Partly because we like nice, tidy records. The astronomical seasons do not begin and end on exactly the same dates every year so that “muddies” the records for those seasons slightly. Meteorological seasons begin and end on the same dates every year.

Meteorological Summer is, of course, June, July and August. The average highs for our region:

 

One of the things most people like about Summer, especially early Summer? The long days. We’ve come a longggg way since the dark days of Winter:

Over the last 20 years, we have had hot Summers, dry ones, cool ones and wet ones. Last year? Very warm and fairly wet (especially in July and August. June was drier-than-average).

Notice that the last 5 Summers have been wetter-than-average.

THE FORECAST

The season will start on a very cool note, especially in the first week of June. While temperatures will moderate as we head toward mid-month, odds still favor June 2017 shaking out as a cool one compared to average.

Will the whole season be this way? Unlikely. A somewhat warmer-than-average July and August should tilt the season into the “warm” category for eastern Ohio and western PA. Just NOT as warm as last year.

Seasonal precipitation forecasts are TOUGH. Especially in the warm season where one or two big thunderstorm days can really skew the numbers. “Persistence” forecasting methods would suggest that we just keep predicting wet Summers until the atmosphere proves it can produce a dry one. We’ve had 5 in a row.  That said, I don’t see anything in the data that gives me a high degree of confidence so for now we’ll call for an “average” season in the rain department.

 

BLOG: IS WINTER OVER? (DID IT BEGIN?)

I am frequently asked “what happened to the winters we USED to have?”, “where is all the snow”, “are we ever going to get a BIG storm?” etc. These are good questions and important ones. The atmosphere is extremely complicated and SIMPLE answers are often hard to come by.

I have spent a considerable amount of time this winter debunking the myth that winters were much colder and snowier in the 70s and 80s. They simply were not…in fact the 2010s have been the SNOWIEST decade (so far) since at least the 1960s. We also had back-to-back harsh winters, the likes we have not seen since the late 70s, just 2 and 3 years ago. Our memories can be quite short (on any number of subjects!) and weather is no exception.

The maps tell the story: here are the temperatures (compared to average) through February 13 in 2014: conus_ytd_t2avg_anom_2014.png

2015: conus_ytd_t2avg_anom_2015.png

And this year: conus_ytd_t2avg_anom_2017.png

The contrast is pretty remarkable.

One of the hallmarks of this winter season (and last year too) has been the lack of SUSTAINED cold. It gets cold for a couple or few days, but then it just gets mild again.

highsunder25.png

There really has just been one cold “snap” this season, early in January and it lasted 4 days. Notice all the cold snaps in the winters of 2013-2014 and 2014-2015.

WHY??

The reasons for the balmy winter weather are complicated. It’s easy to just be flippant and say “GLOBAL WARMING!!!!!”. I hear that a lot. The climate IS changing, but attributing individual weather events and even warm spells on the scale of months directly to climate change is unwise.

The simplest explanation for our mild winter lies over the Pacific ocean. A very strong jet stream, perhaps being aided by something called the Quasi-biennial oscillation (which has been record strong lately) has been unrelenting in recent months. The result has been a VERY wet winter in California and the West Coast. pacjet.png

Another result? Mild air floods the eastern 2/3 of the country. This Pacific jet acts as a real barrier for arctic air trying to come south in eastern North America. This “top down” view, looking over the North Pole, shows the west-to-east upper-air flow over North America. The cold stays “locked up” near the pole and/or gets shoved into Asia. poledown.png

THE REST OF WINTER

I see very few signs that this overall pattern will change for the rest of the season. Will it snow? Yes. Will it get cold occasionally? Yes. Like….in less than 24 hours! Wind chills by Thursday will be mainly in the single digits and teens: chillsthursam

There can be a couple of inches of snow in our northern viewing area, especially in Mercer County, Wednesday into Thursday. hiresp_snow_cleveland_61.png

But that’s gonna be it for snow for a while. A VERY balmy pattern will take over this weekend into next week. A high near 60 can occur for at least a few days: KYNG_2017021400_eps_min_max_15.png

The long-range modeling shows the same kind of pattern that we have been in all winter. Warm overall with brief periods of cold. The latest European model temperatures for the next month: eps_t2m_768h_conus_129.png

The American CFS model for March (average of last 14 runs): cfs_anom_t2m_noram_201703_56.png

Looks familiar.

Summer 2016 Review!

As you may know, meteorologists like to look at the seasons a little differently than others. Since the “astronomical” seasons do not start and end on the same dates every year, we use “meteorological” seasons for the purpose of tidy record-keeping. There is also climatology to consider; the meteorological seasons line up nicely with the 3 hottest/coolest months of the year. So, “meteorological summer” is June, July and August.

Under that premise, let’s do a quick review of summer 2016.

You may remember that we issued a summer forecast around Memorial Day. Have a look at it here.  

That forecast called for the warmest summer since 2012, with a near-average amount of 90-degree days. It worked out pretty well! We are at 6 90+ days so far and I think there is a chance we squeeze out 1 or 2 more next week.

Summer forecast:

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Here’s what happened:

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Not bad. The core of the warmth was centered over our region and not New England but overall I would give this forecast, not only for us but the whole lower 48, an A-/B+.

How did 2016 compare to recent history? It ended up being our hottest since 1995:

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August was particularly hot….the 6th warmest on record in Youngstown.

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On the precipitation-side, the summer of 2016 is an interesting one as well. Of course most had brown lawns for a good chunk of the season. The season will have a reputation as a dry one. Buttttt, the “official” numbers will tell a different story. Would you believe that summer 2016 will go in the record books as WETTER than average in Youngstown?? The airport (where the official observations are) logged a little over 13″ of rain, compared to the historical average, roughly 11.5″. It was our 5th consecutive wetter-than-average summer.

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But the airport was practically the wettest spot in our viewing area. Look at the rain anomalies and notice how the airport location stands out. Other areas were MUCH drier.

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We did make up some ground in August, especially north of 224.

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So Meteorological Fall is here. A transitional season in which we lose daylight rapidly and average high (and low) temperatures plummet quickly, especially during the second half of the season.

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We are expecting a warmer-than-average September. The season as a whole? Mild and probably on the dry side.

 

SUMMER 2016 FORECAST

The calendar still says May but the current pattern is much more mid-summer like! Memorial Day weekend is often considered the “unofficial” start to summer and “Meteorological Summer” is just a few days away from starting (June 1) so in that spirit, here’s what we expect for the summer of 2016.

STREAK OF “HO-HUM” SUMMERS TO END

The last 3 summer seasons have been very “uninteresting” temperature wise with June/July/August ending up near average in 2013, 2014 and 2015. 2014 was the coolest season of that stretch. These more typical summers were preceded by a few hot summers in a row…especially 2010 and 2012.

A look at the last 30 meteorological summers in Youngstown:

SummerTempsLast30Years

This year is likely to be warmer than the last 3. Perhaps not quite as warm as 2010/2011/2012 but still above average. And we will not be alone. Much of the country should have a warm to hot summer (compared to average, of course).

Summer 2016 Temp Forecast

Does this mean a LOT of 95 degree days with stifling humidity? No, not necessarily. But I DO think there will be more 90+ days than the last few years. 2012 was ridiculous and I don’t expect a repeat of that.

Overall, I suspect we will be close to our average of 8-9 90+ days.

90 Degree Days.png

RAINFALL TOTALS: CLOSE TO AVERAGE

Seasonal precipitation forecasts are always tricky, especially in the warm season when some places can get a lot more rain that others, depending on where soaking thunderstorms decide to go. Last summer was very wet (especially in June) in Trumbull County while Columbiana County was not very wet.

Nothing in the data shows this season being abnormally wet or dry overall. There will surely be some exceptions, however.

Summer 2016 Precip Forecast

IF we were to have a dry summer, especially early, western PA could fall into an official drought as that region has been drier than eastern Ohio so far this year.

SOFAR

IMPACTS

Expect higher energy bills this season compared to the last few summers.

There will likely be more days with poor air quality compared to the last few years.

 

Thanks for reading!

Eric

BLOG: SEPTEMBER REVIEW AND OCTOBER FORECAST

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September is in the books and it was the 10th warmest September on record in Youngstown and the warmest in 54 years!

septhistory

How was our September forecast, made on September 1? Good locally and not as good in other parts of the country (to be fair, we don’t look at other parts of the country as much as the Valley!)

Temperature forecast and what actually happened:

SEPTFORECAST SEPTTEMPANOM

Rain:

SEPTRAINFORECASTSEPTRAINANOM

It was certainly drier than we expected locally, although the rain at the end of the month made up some of the deficit.

WHAT ABOUT OCTOBER?

We are expecting October to be a more “typical” month in both the temperature and precipitation departments. That said, if the month ends up drier than average it would not be shocking.

OCTRAIN OCTTEMPS

October is a month in which our averages drop very quickly. By the end of the month, average highs are in the mid 50s and lows are in the 30s:

OCTALM

We typically see our first frost and freeze during October. Average date of the first freeze is in the middle of the month.

_firstfrostmap-lg

It can and certainly HAS snowed in October! It happened as recently as 2 years ago. Other years with measurable snow (more than a trace):

SNOWOCT

When is the earliest that we have picked up our first inch of snow? Here’s the list of earliest dates:

1STINCH

Of course, not only is October a month in which is cools off quickly, it is also a month in which the amount of daylight changes significantly as well. We lose an hour and 18 minutes of daylight this month.

OCTSUN

Thanks for reading!

BLOG: METEOROLOGICAL SUMMER REVIEW AND FALL FORECAST

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As you may know, “meteorological summer” is considered to be the 3 warmest months of the year, June, July and August. The “astronomical” seasons are the ones that are more frequently used and of course are based on the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Astronomical Autumn begins on September 23. But since this is a meteorology blog….”summer” is now over and we can review how it went.

First, the raw numbers. Temperature-wise, this was a pretty typical summer! As you can see, we finished 0.1 degrees above average:

summerstats

The hottest temperature was 91 degrees, which is not all that high but remember in 2014 we did not have ANY 90 degree days. It is possible that the temperature gets near that 91 degree mark over the next few days but I doubt it is exceeded.

Looking across the country, it was a cool summer for the Midwest and Plains states:

summertemps

A warm season for the Northwest and much of the Southeast.

RAIN was really this story this summer. June was EXCEPTIONALLY wet with a little over 9 inches of rain at the airport (3rd wettest June on record). Some rain gauges showed over 12 inches. The pattern flipped dramatically in July and it has been VERY dry ever since.

For the summer, rainfall totals were above average in most of the area and near average in some spots:

rainanom

But take away June and it is a whole different story! Here’s July and August:

RAINJUL1

That wet June really skews the numbers. Summer 2015 was actually the 2nd wettest season in the last 20 years….but you would not know it by all the brown lawns now!

SUMMERRAINCHART

So, “abnormally dry” conditions are present across the Valley as we start Fall.

drought

FALL FORECAST: 

For “Meteorological Fall” (September, October, November), we are expecting a pretty easy-going season. The forecast from the Climate Prediction Center has “equal chances” of a cooler than average and warmer than average season:

cpctemp

Meanwhile, the models are showing a warm season for the region and I tend to agree with the models’ assessment.

CFSAUTUMN

There of course will be plenty of chilly days but the 3 months as a whole should shake out to be warmer than average.

In the rain department, the CPC again shows “equal chances”:

cpcrain

The climate models do not have a strong signal either way.

CFSAUTRAIN

So the 3-month period is likely to be fairly typical as far as rain amounts.

WINTER FORECAST 

Our Winter outlook will be released on TV and online at the end of October or perhaps the first week of November. I will continue to preview the forecast from time to time on my Weather For Weather Geeks video over the next couple of months as new information becomes available.

Thanks for reading!

Eric