Severe Weather Awareness: Facts Vs. Fiction

It’s Severe Weather Awareness Week in Ohio (Pennsylvania later in the spring), the week in which we get geared up for “severe weather season” in our region. This is typically thought of as late spring and early summer, but bear in mind severe weather can happen anytime! Case in point: we had tornadoes in our area in early JANUARY this year.

I thought I would use this post to talk about some common myths and misconceptions regarding thunderstorms and severe weather. There are a lot of them! Being a well-informed and weather-savvy member of your family and community can help keep you and your friends and family safe in dangerous weather.


Like clockwork, whenever a television station interrupts programming for severe weather coverage, angry comments start piling up on Facebook, Twitter, over e-mail, etc. Some people still pick up the phone to call the station and complain. This is especially the case when programming is interrupted in “prime time”.

Here’s the thing: the policy of being on TV during active tornado warnings is standard across the country….and has been for a very long time. And will be for a very long time. Why? It’s incredibly important and the presence of television meteorologists on TV covering tornado warnings has undoubtedly saved countless lives over the years. Also: it’s basically the law. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) demands that TV stations serve the public interest. Potentially life-threatening weather certainly falls under that umbrella.

No amount of nasty (even threatening!) messages will change this. Tornado Warning? We (and every other station) will be on TV.

Severe Weather Peaks In May/June/July Here

But as mentioned above, if conditions are right, severe weather can happen any month of the year. Sometimes we see a secondary peak in late fall (late October-early November).


My rants about tornado sirens are well known to longtime viewers/followers. It’s 2019, DO NOT rely on hearing/not hearing sirens when making decisions about your safety.


We live in an area in which natural barriers to tornadoes do not exist. And tornadoes do not care about man-made objects. A tornado is not less likely to strike downtown Youngstown than any other location in our area. Some facts about tornadoes in Ohio and Pennsylvania:


Whether it’s a tornado or powerful thunderstorm winds, you want to seek shelter in locations that provide the most protection from flying glass and debris. Don’t have a basement? An interior room with no windows is best. Have a PLAN for you and your family and practice it at least once a year.


Don’t do this. It does nothing but let the wind in.


When any type of weather warning is issues, it means hazardous weather is occurring or imminent. Time to take action!


A great way to learn and also contribute to the weather enterprise is by becoming a SKYWARN severe weather spotter. SKYWARN spotters report directly to the National Weather Service and assist the NWS in the issuance of timely severe weather warnings.

Learn more here:

Upcoming training sessions (they are free!) in our area:


To make sue Emergency Alerts are activated on your phone, go to your Push Notification settings.


Spring 2019 Forecast (And Winter 2018-2019 Review)

We have a very cold forecast for the first week of March and accumulating snow on the way Sunday. Most are ready for winter to be over….well in one sense it’s about to be over! February 28 marks the end of “meteorological” winter. LET’S TALK SPRING!

But first, let’s talk winter. Are these seasonal forecasts any good?? Well, yes yes they are. Most of the time.


This was our winter temperature forecast:

Here’s what happened:

Well, at least I wasn’t alone. Every single winter forecast I saw busted. How did we all do so badly?? I won’t get too far into the weeds but basically the ocean/atmosphere relationship in the western Pacific and even the Indian Ocean did not go as planned. This caused a chain reaction which resulted in the positions of ridges and troughs over and around North America to be in the wrong places. The result: Everything was off by half a continent.

The winter numbers (snow total is of course not final):

It has been wet and rather gloomy but not that snowy at all. We are running well behind average and behind last year’s tally:


Spring is of course a transitional season. Average rise quickly over the next few months as the sun gets stronger and higher in the sky.

What most want: A BETTER SPRING THAN LAST YEAR! We will get that?

Spring 2018 started very, VERY slowly with wet, chilly and even snowy conditions in March and April:

Then May was more like summer. Overall it was the 2nd consecutive pretty wet spring season.

This year: Well March is going to start very very cold. While the rest of the month looks “less cold” it also doesn’t look all that balmy compared to average.

I do expect better things out of April and May. April in particular should be quite a bit warmer than last year, allowing for some “true” spring weather rather than “extended winter and then suddenly summer” like last year. Overall the 3 month period should end up warmer than average.

It does not look like a dry spring but also likely not as wet as the last couple of years.

2018: The Year In Weather (Plus January 2019 Forecast)

2018: A Year Of Extremes (Again)

Extreme/record-setting weather has become more common in recent years and 2018 was no exception. The year started with a bang with a record low tied on New Year’s morning (-1) and a high of just 13 that day. Early January was brutal; temperatures moderated during the rest of the month and January as a whole was fairly unremarkable.


February…ah February. Over the last 2 years, February and March have switched places…meaning that March was COLDER than February both in 2017 and 2018. Check out that 73 on February 20!


I will remember 2018 as a year with very short “transition” seasons. A cold April led to a very slow “greening up” across the area but then BANG, May was very summery. September and early October were quite warm and foliage was delayed. Then, when it got cold, it pretty much stayed cold and November was more like a typical December. Click on this graphic to enlarge:

Daily Temperatures

Broken down by month:

Monthly Temps Vs. Average

In the precipitation department, well obviously it was a very wet year. The numbers were not final as of 8:30 Monday evening but the year will end up around 12″ wetter than average. Good enough for the 2nd wettest year on record.

Wettest Years on Record
Monthly Precipitation Vs. Average

There were not many “typical” months in 2018:

Monthly Extremes

January 2019 Forecast

Winter weather lovers… may want to read no farther. The first half of January looks mild and pretty snow-free…a continuation of the pattern we saw in the last 3 weeks of December. The second half of the month is likely to be much more typical of the season but as a whole it should be another mild month (compared to average). Our winter forecast is shaping up to be too cold and snowy but I still think February is looking better for snow and cold.

January Temperatures
January Precip Vs. Average

Updated 2018-2019 Winter Forecast

You can find the original Winter Forecast HERE

There are years in which the data changes enough between early November and early December that a decent-size revision to the winter forecast is warranted. Last year was one of those years. This year? I like the forecast!

This is the original December forecast:

Here’s the new map:

As you can see I am still expecting December to come out in the wash as pretty average. BUT it will be an up-and-down month, perhaps we can divide it into 3 parts.

  1. A cold stretch from today through next Sunday/Monday
  2. A mild stretch from around the 13th to the 20th
  3. A stretch that’s colder to average from the 20th-31st

That’s generally the idea that the latest run of the long-range European modeling has. This animation actually continues into mid-January and the model shows a fair amount of cold (compared to average) in the pattern during the first couple of weeks of the year.


Unless we get a decent-sized storm late in the month, I suspect December is going to be lacking in the snow department. The pattern looks too warm for snow in the middle of the month and while the latter part of the month looks more seasonable, most modeling suggests the primary storm track may be to our south.

European mode precipitation anomalies through Christmas Eve:

I still think a much colder pattern will develop as we get into the new year and I have no changes to the idea that the winter overall will be colder-than-average, despite the average December. Again, check out the original forecast HERE

Winter 2018-2019 Forecast



Before we dive into this year’s winter forecast, let’s quickly review recent history here in the Youngstown area.

Snowier-than-average winters have been common in recent years, including the last 5 of the last 7: Seasonal Snow 1997-2016

5 of the last 7 winters have also been on the mild side: Winter Temps 1997-2016

The winter of 2017-2018 was an interesting one. The season got off to a fast start with a cold and, at times, snowy December and early January. February turned remarkably warm for the 2nd straight year. And once again we paid the price in March, which ended up colder than February. Previous Winter Review.png

The final numbers looked like this. Despite colder-than-average months of December and January, February’s warmth tipped the balance of meteorological winter toward the warm side. Plenty of snow in March (and April!) made the season appear pretty snowy (almost 20″ above average), even though the heart of winter wasn’t especially snowy at all. Winter 2016-2017 Review SHORT.png


Putting together a seasonal outlook, especially an outlook for winter, is much different than putting together a daily 7-day forecast. The standard forecast I work on every day is heavily reliant on analyzing the current weather and interpreting the output from a host of computer models. Long-range models are an ingredient in our winter forecast “cake” but the main ingredient (the “batter” if you will) is actually a process that involves looking at the PAST. We look for years that are an “analog” to this year; years that had similar conditions in the atmosphere and the oceans as this year. Then we take a look at what happened those winters… much snow? How were temperatures compared to average? Secret Sauce


I’m going to walk through some of the key factors this year. This is pretty science-y stuff but hey this is a science blog and it’s important to note that this isn’t “throwing darts at dartboard” stuff. The forecast is science-based and takes many, many hours of work to come up with.

Key Factors.png

1) It’s an El Nino winter, but not a “typical” El Nino winter

Arguably the most important driver of weather patterns across the northern hemisphere in the cold weather season is the ENSO, or El Nino-Southern Oscillation. When a pool of warmer-than-average water forms in the central and eastern Pacific, it’s El Nino. The opposite is La Nina. In a standard El Nino, the warmest water is banked up against South America. But sometimes, the warmest water is centered much farther west, in the central Pacific. The water near South America is sometimes even cooler-than-average. This is called a “Modoki” El Nino.

SO WHAT?? giphy (1)

Why does all this matter? Well the oceans and the atmosphere are really joined at the hip. The oceans can influence the behavior of the atmosphere above. Warm (or cool) water in this important region can alter weather patterns over North America, especially in the winter. The strength of the El Nino/La Nina is also quite important. The stronger it is, the higher the correlation to the “flavor” of the winter here. We are expecting a weak to moderate El Nino this season. Notice the average of all these models is around a 1.0, near what is considered to be the border of weak/moderate.


2) The Quasi-Biennial Oscillation is making a u-turn

Say what? The “QBO” refers to a ribbon of air VERY high in the atmosphere, almost at the edge of outer space.  When it’s blowing in one direction (easterly), it’s been shown to tickle the upper atmosphere in a way that increases the odds of a cold winter in the eastern United States. The opposite is true when it’s westerly.

Well the QBO is trending from VERY negative last winter, spring and summer to weakly positive this winter. Studies have shown that the transition from one phase to the other sometimes helps to provoke a dislodging of the polar vortex from over the North Pole to either Asia or North America. If it wobbles down into North America, surges of arctic air come south.

3) Very warm water in the northern Pacific

This winter we are likely to see a pool of warm water continuing to build in the northern Pacific, south of Alaska. Again…so? Well warm water in this location tends to favor a ridge of high pressure in the atmosphere over the west coast of Canada and the US. Just like waves on the ocean, every crest is accompanied by a downstream trough. And that trough often sets up over the Midwest and Northeast. This allows cold arctic and Canadian air to be pushed south.

This map shows the warm water in the El Nino region and the northern Pacific early in November: cdas-sflux_ssta_global_1.png

4) The Sun is quiet. Very quiet….

What does that mean? Well we are in a “solar minimum” right now, which means there’s almost no sunspot activity. This occurs every roughly 9-10 years. Studies have shown that there is an atmospheric response to solar minimums and it can be easier for “blocking patterns” to form over Greenland and the northern Atlantic during solar minimums. These ridges of high pressure can aid in “locking in” cold air over eastern North America.

Sunspot Cycle

5) Autumn snow cover over Eurasia

Yet another thing that my raise some eyebrows. Who cares about the snow over Siberia in October? Well, studies have shown that a rapid increase in snow cover during October in parts of Europe and Asia can provoke at atmospheric response that leads to more blocking over the same area mentioned above. It’s effect on weather patterns is especially pronounced when the El Nino/Nina signal is neutral or weak.

This season’s snow cover got off to a slow start but increased rapidly late in October.

Siberia Snow Depth.png


Ok, so all that being said, what years were most like this one? Well it was hard to find many exact matches. I looked for years that featured a weak to moderate Modoki El Nino with a QBO trending into the westerly phase (after being strongly easterly), with a solar minimum and with a warm blob over the northern Pacific. Really hard to find exact matches. But here’s the closest matches and the results in our area:

Top Analogs.png

Some takeaways:

-More winters were cold than mild and there are a couple of very cold ones on there (1977-78 and 2002-03).

-5 out of the 7 years had above-average snow (average at the airport is about 62″).

-1994-95 was a very snow-less winter and is an outlier on the list.

Average together the years and the national map looks like this for temperatures: analogtemps

Precipitation (all, not just snow): analogprecip

You can see the active storm track that often results from this type of El Nino, which results in a wet winter across the southern tier of states and the East Coast.  Drier conditions are favored in the Northwest and the Midwest.


So, based on the analog information shown above, computer model forecasts and my intuition/gut feeling…’s the forecast.


December Temp Forecast.png

I do not expect December to be as cold as last year and the month will likely start out rather mild. Shots of colder air later in the month will probably balance out the warm start and lead to a near-average month overall.


January Temp Forecast

This is the month I had the hardest time with. We will probably see a transition into a colder pattern in January and I have the month ending up as somewhat colder than average locally. Recent runs of the European seasonal model paint a warmer picture in January but I lean toward the colder analogs for now.


February Temp Forecast.png


This is likely to be the month that packs the most punch. It will be the coldest month of the winter and a HUGE change from the last 2 years. There is strong agreement both on the models and in the analogs on this.


Winter Temp Forecast.png

The forecast is for a colder-than-average winter and the coldest winter since 2014-2015. The forecast is highly dependent on February being a very cold month compared to average and January being colder than average. If January ends up warmer than expected, the overall forecast may be too cold.


Snow Forecast

I am expecting more snow in the “heart” of winter this year, rather than on the fringes (November, March, April). Lake-effect will, as usual, jack up the numbers in parts of Mercer and Trumbull counties. A bounty of East Coast storms, especially during the 2nd half of winter, may lead to higher numbers in our eastern viewing area. Overall the forecast is for a near to somewhat above-average year although somewhat less than last year.


Bottom Line

I will have an update to the forecast in a little less than a month. Right now I would place my overall confidence in the forecast at a “medium”. I am bullish on February being a nasty month but am unsure how the mid-winter transition to that pattern plays out.

Winter Forecast Confidence Grid



How 2018’s Fall Foliage Season May Shake Out

It’s many people’s favorite time of the year: football season, crisp, cool nights, pumpkin patches, hay rides and of course fall foliage. Autumn can be spectacular around here, but the quality of the foliage season can vary from year to year.



If dry conditions prevail in the spring and early summer, there is an increased risk of leaves dropping before they reach peak color in the fall. This year, we DID have a pretty wet period from April-June.


Here’s where we may be in some trouble this year. September has been quite cloudy and wet across the area. In fact, it’s been the wettest September on record. 


What we don’t want in October is a bunch of rainy, windy days, especially later on the month. Those conditions will help pull down leaves and lead to a muted foliage season.  In the first half of the month, cool and dry days and nights would be ideal. Welp:

Early October is looking pretty warm overall.


Why do leaves change color? It’s all about chlorophyll. That’s what gives leaves their green color. But leaves have other pigments as well and as daylight decreases in the fall, chlorophyll quickly depletes. This allows those other pigments such as yellow, red, orange, etc to show up.


We are not seeing much color yet locally. Pockets here and there but overall it seems like we already running behind schedule a bit.

Colors are most noticeable in areas well north of us, mainly in the mountains.

Peak colors typically occur in mid-to-late October around here. Sometimes we see a peak around October 16-23, sometimes more like October 22-31. I suspect we’ll see the latter this year.


Some Very Early Thoughts On Winter 2018-2019

It’s still (astronomical) summer and it’s going to feel like it for the next handful of days with warm, humid weather in the forecast. It’s WAY too early to put out an official winter forecast. But I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the upcoming winter anyway. With the important caveat:



Ok, now that we have that out of the way. This post will not dive into ALL the factors that I surely will be looking at when I compile the forecast in 6 weeks. I’ll just touch on a couple here.

#1 The Winter Is Likely To Feature A Weak El Nino

Remember, El Nino is a phenomenon having to do with water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean and how they compare to average. El Nino is a warming of the waters in the eastern Pacific, near the equator. What does this have to do with our weather?? Well, the oceans and the atmosphere are one big system and what happens in the oceans can influence how the atmosphere behaves.

Right now odds favor an El Nino this winter although the odds of it being a “neutral” winter are not negligible (at 31%).  

The strength of an El Nino is important. Weak El Ninos tend to result in more “surprises” and more variance than strong ones. In other words, the range of outcomes is greater than during a winter featuring a strong El Nino.

The location of the warmest water (compared to average) is also important. A “standard” El Nino sees the warmest water banked up against South America. But there is a special flavor of El Nino called “modoki”, which sees the warmest water farther west.These 2 flavors of El Nino often produce winters over the US that are quiet different.   Odds favor a “modoki” this winter.


#2 The “QBO” Or Quasi-biennial Oscillation Is Going From VERY Negative (Easterly) To Near Neutral

Say what? The QBO refers to the oscillation of river of air at very high altitudes in the atmosphere. It switches directions at regular intervals and has been shown to have an impact on weather patterns in the northern hemisphere winter.  It was very “negative” or easterly last winter through this summer but is trending back toward neutral.

Again, so what?

Winter Outlooks Are Largely Based On Looking At The Past

Making a seasonal forecast is tough but thankfully we have lots of data to look at., including detailed records of the past. So, we look for years with similar setups and see what happened. For the purposes of this post, I’ll just look at past years with weak modoki El Ninos and a QBO trend similar to this fall. When I do the “real” forecast, I will be looking at much more than this.

Temperatures (averaged together) during winters with weak modoki El Ninos:

Finding years with a weak modoki El Nino AND a QBO trending from very negative back toward neutral is tough. Only found a few. Average them and you get this:

Precipitation anomalies: 

Using these factors alone, the winter of 1968-1969 is the best overall match. Temperatures that winter:

Pretty cold winter. Snow was nothing to write home about. A bit below our average in the lower/mid 60s actually.

Again, the forecast will come out sometime around November 1. This just gave you a little peek behind the curtain. I love the challenge of the winter forecast and look forward to trying to beat the atmosphere this year!




August Outlook: Warm Like July But More Rain Than July

The final month of “meteorological” summer gets underway Wednesday. Before we get to the forecast for August, let’s quickly review July.

July started hotter than a firecracker. The heat was accompanied by some remarkably dry weather, too. Yards browned up in a hurry.


July was the warmest since 2012 in Youngstown. Nowhere near the top of the record book but significant nonetheless. 2018-07-31_20-12-13

We were not alone. Many parts of the US had a warmer-than-average July. Temperature anomalies: prism_conus_tavg_anom_MTD

August will get underway with fairly seasonable weather through Friday. After that, we are going to get back into the kind of pattern that produced the hot weather in early July. The first half of August looks quite hot…the second half may feature more frequent cool shots. Overall, odds favor another warmer-than-average month. The highest departures from average should end up being in New England. CPC Monthly Temps

While a *WET* month does not seem likely, odds are favoring a month with more frequent rains than July. That, combined with the bouts of wet weather that we had in late July, means that we should avoid widespread drought conditions this summer. CPC Monthly Precip

By the way, August has been one of our more benign months in recent years, at least as far as temperatures go. 2016 was the exception; it was the 7th warmest August on record.  Otherwise, temperatures have been pretty close to the average (combining highs and lows) of 68.1. In fact, 2017 and 2013 were exactly average. august

Spring 2018 Forecast

It’s that time of the year. Everyone is anxious for warmer days, later sunsets and blooming flowers (maybe not the pollen though).  Patience is called for though…after all we live in NE Ohio and western Pennsylvania! Winter can overstay it’s welcome into March or even April some years. In fact, on average, 21% of our annual snow has yet to fall! 

That said, March 1st is the start of “meteorological” spring, which consists of the months of March, April and May. Meteorologists like tidy records and since the astronomical seasons don’t always begin and end on the same days every year, we made up our own seasons. That’s how we roll.

Average highs in spring:

One of the things we’ll be keeping an eye on as we get into spring is the severe drought across the middle of the country. If that area remains dry, it ups the odds of hot weather centering over the Plains states in spring and summer.  If that is the case, there could be implications downstream in out area. An increase in precipitation for Ohio and Pennsylvania is a possible outcome….as there is often an active storm track on the northern and eastern sides of a mid-continent heat ridge.


Right now I think odds favor spring being near to somewhat warmer-than-average. I think the chances of a warm spring are higher than the chances for a chilly season. A somewhat wetter-than-average spring is also likely.



Our winter outlook was looking quite good until the very warm 2nd half of February. Here was the temperature forecast: 

Here’s what has actually happened:

Pretty decent, but I wouldn’t give it an “A”. The cold was centered farther west than the forecast as the ridge off the Southeast coast really fought back hard, especially late in the game.

Temperatures compared to average in Youngstown during winter:  

JANUARY: -1.3°

I give our snow forecast an “incomplete” as we are not done with snow yet! The last flakes typically fly in early April.  As of February 28th, snow totals have been above-average. 


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: 


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!