The Winter Outlook…Will El Niño Save The Day???
Winter season Preliminary Outlook is now posted in video (Updated December 15th – Final Update – Will post bi weekly reviews through spring to see how we are doing).
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TWO WEEK OUTLOOK (Jan 9-20, Updated 1-9)
VIDEO UPDATED DECEMBER 15th. Text and graphics below ALSO UPDATED 12-15.
Winter 2015-16, what will it be? Will we break the pattern of the last two years? Perhaps warm but wet? Or cold and snowy – again. Let’s take a look and see.
The El Niño event in the Pacific continues to strengthen, now growing deeper into the ocean reaching down over 200 meters. That is a lot of of very-very warm water. This was a concern for some pro’s that said yes, it would be strong, but would it grow deep. The latest projections are with a 90+ confidence for it to continue strong right into early spring. So what is this El Niño? This region of the earth (Equatorial Pacific) is affected by a shift in the wind pattern that causes the usual cold water from the Peru coast all the way to the middle Pacific to become warm. This change in the wind and then the warm water that follows has in the past dramatically impacted the weather patterns around the world. Much of South Asia and Australia enter into droughts…and California and the southern US get very wet during the winter. But there are some subtle differences that can “ruin” these flips. As of mid December though we do seem to be in store for what usually shows up with El Niño…lets see how that most likely plays out.
Figure one shows the sea surface temperature anomalies over the Pacific and the North Atlantic as of December 14th – 2015.
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Figure 1) Sea surface temperature anomalies as of December 14th, 2015. Orange to red areas are above average, blue areas are below average. Notice the orange and red from SW Alaska to the western North Pacific. And the expanding cold water North of HA. The big news is this is a major flip since August that shows no signs of letting up and even expanding! And then there is the El Niño (yellow to orange/red) east of Peru along the equator.
This displays the warming in the Pacific along the equator for El Niño. In previous years with a strong El Niño the ocean temps have been much colder from Alaska to California. Since 2010 or so, the North Pacific has been in a warm phase of a usual decadal oscillation, at least it has been very warm from AK to CA. This is now in the process of what appears to be a very dramatic change, or flip, where the warm water south of AK is heading through Aleutians to be between AK and Japan. replacing it is water temperatures that are below average north of HA and heading towards CA. This is fuel for a very strong temperature gradient to set up in the coming months to dramatically increase the storm generation over the Pacific. The famed “Pineapple Express”. These storms will then likely hit the west coast (damaging floods likely to be an issue along with very heavy mountains snows all the way to CO) and then move into the southern US and the Southeast, clipping northward to the northeast at times, bringing a mix of rain and snow to the Northeast, some heavy.
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Next let us turn to arctic sea ice. As the cold air has formed rapidly over the polar regions with temperatures already well below zero at the top of the planet. That cold air will provide for stronger than usual jet streams around the whole Northern Hemisphere this year and what makes me come up with a very active winter for Most of the US, but most of us will be on the warmer side with some heavy snow storms in the Plains and northern parts of the Midwest. These will be hard to get into the Northeast, but may happen and will have to be watched for.
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Figure 2 a. Sea ice and snow cover as of December 14th was gathering rapidly across the arctic circle showing the cold air is accumulating rapidly too. This will help intensify the speed of the jet stream and help develop more waves for storms in the coming months. Fig 2 b, Snow is already accumulating well across much of Western Mountains, 2-4 feet at Lake Tahoe ski resorts. Fig 2 c, all the cold air is locked up on the other side of the Planet. Notice the snow in Iran and through western to Northern China…it is cold there!
The final thing to look at is what NOAA long range forecasts are calling for. Not so much as to what they directly tell us, but what can be interpreted from them. See figure 3.
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Figure 3. This is the long range forecast of temperatures (top, red above average, blue below average) and precipitation, (bottom, brown is below and green is above); from NOAA for Jan-March (November publication) for the US. The Southeast including Florida looks very much above and I tend to agree with some of this expected pattern, but go colder in AK and not as extensive with the warm-up for the lower 48.
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With the changes that have been happening in the North Pacific to a colder phase, so long as this continues, then more storminess will be making its way into California and I am inclined to agree with the NOAA Precip forecast. The location though of the Warmest water with El Niño is near the Date Line, not along the Peru coast. The northern Jet stream has shifted very far north and the Polar Vortex, though strong, is very far north and keeping the cold air locked up there and over in Siberia. This will then lead to Split Jet Stream Flow for the Western US, and then merging jet stream flow over Northeastern Canada. This is very similar to the 97/98 Winter season which was very tough on most of the Northeast US with wild swings in temps and storminess. As of December 15th, here is what I am thinking winter will look like across the US.
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Now lets zero in on CA and try and add some detail as it is looking pretty tough. It will not be bad all the time, but storms will be much more abundant than usual. I think pictures show the details well. But basically snow amounts will be way above average in the mountains and anywhere from 150 to 250%, they will also be higher in the inner basins too and lower elevations too, but so will the rain. Rain in CA will make flooding likely and as for when this all hits will be tough to nail down, but it will probably come in periods, perhaps beginning as soon as December. The Holidays could be rough. Folks that live in the region, just do what you can to be prepared.
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The Pennsylvania Possibilities for Winter – A Discussion:
So here is how I stand as of mid December…First choice – My thinking has changed as new evidence showing the southern Jet Stream is Much Stronger and all the long range models show the cold air locked up in Canada. Main Storm Track will be through the Midwest into the Great Lakes leaving much of the east on the warm side of these events, so plenty of rain. Some storms may track further south and east, this bringing some snow. But there will be plenty of melting between them. I do not see any evidence for a colder than average winter or any major cold air outbreaks at this time. It is possible in January, some of the cold air could slide down and send us below average for awhile, but there is no evidence to suggest this scenario so confidence in that is very low.
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Here in State College/Happy Valley, look for about 25-40 inches of snow, it will be wetter than usual, but most of it will come in the form of rain. Temperatures again above average with a few cold snaps lasting up to a week, and then warm trends well above average as well most of the time – perhaps with rain (There could be some wild swings on temps). Average seasonal snowfall is 45 inches, so less snow than usual, and followed by warm ups for melting.
Jay Searles is a meteorologist with over 25 years of experience in forecasting. He spends his time as lead forecaster with Weather Ranger and teaching college level meteorology online. Learn more about Jay and the weather at http://weatherranger.com.