Winter Outlook – 2015-16

 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.

Click Image To Enlarge

December 14 SSTA


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.

Click Image to Enlarge

a) cursnow_alaskacursnow_usa b)cursnow_asiaeuropec)

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.

Click Image to Enlarge

Oct NOAA Winter 15-16 Temps

Oct 15-16 Outlook


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.

Click images to enlarge them

Jet Stream


Precipitation JFM

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.

Click on images to enlarge them

Nov West Floods 15-16November snow west 15-16

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.

Click images to enlarge

Northeast Temps JFM

Northeast Winter Precip

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




50 thoughts on “Winter Outlook – 2015-16”

  1. I watched the entire broadcast. Very well done.

    But, for the moment, I’m trying to figure out whether we’ll have a light frost tonight.

    1. Hi Art: Got this this morning, I had 38 for the low here and put 37 in my updated forecast before bed. We had patches of clouds and too much moisture in the air to drop off below freezing here in SC. I will let everyone know by text message or e-mail alert when I think there will be a frost or freeze. Thanks for watching and glad you enjoyed it. Jay

    1. Hi Ben:
      Thanks! For DC I would think you have a better shot at rain and ice this year, but a little more nudge of cold east and you could get a few dumpings of snow too. Will not take much of shift in the storm track so do not count it out. Jay

  2. I was wondering about Central North Carolina, specifically the Sanford/Fayetteville area. I am hoping for a very white winter since we have ha a very wet season. 🙂

    1. Hi Amanda:

      My thoughts are that you will be colder than average temperatures, but it will continue on the wet side. You will have rain, but also a few ice and snow storms to go along with them as you will bounce warmer for a few days then bounce colder again, especially mid Dec to Feb. This will probably be a common theme across most of the east and south. Hope that helps.

      Thanks for checking us out.

      Jay @ Weather Ranger

  3. so what you are saying for CT in the northeast is expect a lot of snow/ice & cold this winter probably just like last winter which was a tough one…

    1. Hi Joe:

      Yes, so far that is what looks like is heading your way. The only hope is if sea surface temps in the Atlantic also shift and help get rid of the “Polar Vortex”, that does not appear to be the case. Will update next Month around the 15th and again in November. Check back then. Thanks for stopping by.


    1. Cheri:

      Sorry, but no Art here. This is Jay. MN looks like so far will have an average winter temp wise and average to below average on the precip side. So a fairly boring winter by native standards. I am from MN by the way. Saint Paul. Thanks for stopping by and there will be an update around the 15th of October looking the situation over.


    1. Michael:

      It appears so far you will be in a winter that will feature much more rain, and perhaps freezing rain at times, than snow. Temps should take some mild swings followed by a periods of storminess with more rain and then ice potential than snow. Will take a closer look again and update things around the 15th of October. Thanks for stopping by.


  4. I’ve seen several different forecast for the Southeast part of Kentucky. What is your view on what our weather will be this year as far as temps and snowfall? Thanks

    1. Hi Jamie:

      Not too much different than Arkansas, but it is looking stormy and you could have a little colder air for some snow, but I would say rain and ice will be the bigger issues. Possibly one or two 4 to 6 inch events. Update coming around the 15th of October.


  5. Very interesting. Any thoughts on our winter to the NE of you in the Binghamton, NY area? We have missed out on the big snows of recent years.

    1. There will be a couple of Big Nor Easters as usual for sure, may get a couple more due to El-Ninio. But will depend on how strong that polar low over eastern Canada ends up being. Looking good so far for enough cold air a couple of the storms will be snow. Can not Guarantee you will be in the track and that is what it will come down too. Update coming in the next day or two.


  6. What will the winter weather be like for the Greenville/Spartanburg area temperature and precipitation wise??? Will there be decent snow this winter for the Greenville/Spartanburg area????

    1. Hi Nick:

      Looks like much more rain (possibly ice) than frozen precip. Still if we get a the timing of some cold air with one of the rain or ice storms just right, a dumping of snow can not be ruled out. As for a lot of snow that sticks around, so far not looking likely. Thanks for stopping by.


  7. I’m back jay & was told to check back around Nov 15th…thanks

    so what you are saying for CT in the northeast is expect a lot of snow/ice & cold this winter probably just like last winter which was a tough one…

    1. Joe:

      CT will be a tough one as you will be right where the Jet Stream flow merges back up. So I would expect wide swings in temps, cold snaps with thaws in between. But lots of precip in all forms. You could get enough warm air in between to allow for significant melting. But again, you will be right on the boundary. Hope that helps make it clearer what I am expecting for you. Others are saying differently though. Have a good one Joe.


    1. Hi Jeff:

      Annual Average is 25.9. A couple of years ago, 2013-14, you came in third place with 55. My thoughts are you will be right around average with maybe one 6 inch plus storm…there will also be some rain and ice storms though. Thanks for stopping by


    1. Hi Brandon:

      Not thinking much in the snow/ice area there, you should be on the rain side 80-90% of the time. Can not rule out one or two ice events, depends on what happens with our polar vortex. But already seeing signs of an el-ninio pattern to the Jet Stream. Thanks for stopping by.


    1. Hi Brandon:

      Sounds like you are putting me on the spot. Could there or will there be some snow, there usually is some snow most years, January and February. Will it be a big year for snow…NO, more rain and ice. Ice not until Mid January to Feb. It will be a brown Christmas and New Years, you can bank on it.

      Hope that settles your appetite.


      1. Hi Brandon:

        No snow in South Carolina for Thanksgiving if that is what you mean by SC. If you mean State College, on the edge but so far looking too warm here as well.

        Hope that helps


  8. I was wondering what you think the winter will be like for us out here in the middle. I live in Wichita Ks. You seem to covered everywhere but the south cent part of the US.

    1. HI Jeff:

      I do have most of Kansas around average for temps to below average. Again overall you will be wetter than usual. I have you covered on the National Maps, but did not create any highlights. I hit the West because of how rough it looks for them, and then also the Northeast because that is where I am located. Hope you find the information helpful and I will keep things updated through the winter and see how it is playing out. Thanks for stopping by.


      1. Thanks for taking the time to respond. I takeit by your answer then nothing exciting going to happen to us out here snow wise.:( I love snow I grew up in Cincinnati did not get much. Soon as I moved out here they always seem to get snow. Go figure.

        1. Jeff:

          You will be colder than usual due to all the clouds and precip, you should be good for at least one snow storm, of not a couple.


    1. Hi Bryce:

      Thanks for stopping by. Can not rule it out 100%…but the main cold air pushes will be into the Northeast. If it does come, most likely end of January into Feb. Have a great one!


  9. Hi…..was looking at long range forecast for Ct and of all the weather sites visited none have day time temps below freezing for the next 30 days there were night time low temps in the upper 20’s but thats it…..according to them all precipertation that will fall is either a bit of freezing rain during the night and rain during the day …..wonder if this will be the norm this winter in CT …warner temps and freezing rain

    1. Hi Joe:

      The cold season thus far is in a drastic pattern shift from the previous winters. So far it is indeed looking mild for quite some time for the Northeast. But going 30 days with every day with high temps above freezing for CT this time of year is a bit of stretch. One good cold front comes through and below freezing temps for good stretch of time for Connecticut is much more the norm. I would not take money on those forecasts. Thanks for stopping by.


    1. Hi John:

      Depends on Where in the south, Alabama and Miss to Georgia, Probably not. Will be wet and cool…some ice, perhaps a little snow. Further West into Arkansas then Kansas and West Texas, Some good snow events likely. Hope that helps and thanks for stopping by.


    1. Hi Nick?

      I am from Saint Paul. Went o to Johnson. Class of 85. MN will be around average for snow to a little below, but could get a couple of rain events too. Temps a little above average I think too. I will update again Dec 15 as I am concerned the excessive cold air in Siberia this year could give the US a visit in January. But the El Ninio Pattern could keep it over there too. We shall see.

      Thanks for stopping by and tell all I say hello…;-)


  10. Looks like the locals were right about the 30 days out from middle of November that temps in CT during the daytime wouldn’t get below freezing ….Do you see any real cold temps moving in say for the next 30 days..

    1. Hi Joe:

      You will get a shot through the weekend of some colder weather, but the storm track for the winter looks further west and the cold air is locked up in Canada and on the other side of the planet. See no signs of change as el-ninio takes over from the Polar Vortex. I am updating the Winter Outlook now and will have the video up by 10 AM eastern Time. Merry Christmas.


  11. Very, very informative, Jay. I wish I understood the basis of long-range guessing, or the extent to which it’s beyond historical climate data, but your explanations made a lot of sense. The warming trend and prevailing patterns for our area have persisted for quite a while already.

    Overall, and since I don’t like snow, I want to believe what you say! Maybe one can keep his bicycle out of storage this winter……

    1. Hi Ken:

      Thanks for stopping by…please keep coming back. I will post bi-weekly updates as to how the winter is progressing. I was out on my Bike last week and will try and get out this week for another 20+ mile ride. Probably Christmas eve. I used to ride in the cold all the was into the 20s when I was in training for races. Now I have indoor rollers for both wheels…just like riding outdoors with more resistance, makes one even stronger. 30-40 minutes a few days a week keep the conditioning…more if I want.

      Take care!


  12. Jay…..looking ahead when do you think Southern New England will get it’s first real shot at some measureable snow fall or is it to far off to even make a guess..thanks & HH

    1. Hi Joe:

      Well in all honest within the next two weeks there appears to be a little shake up in this warm pattern. Exactly what that means for snow in New England is tough to pin down. I would give you about 35% chance though over the next two weeks. It could happen, but I am not betting on it. It looks like there will be some colder air by the new year, closer to average anyhow.

      Hope that helps


  13. Can you give an update for central Arkansas? Wanting snow! But it doesn’t sound likely after reading your posts. Please send snow!! Thank you Jay!!

    1. Hi Jodi:

      For the winter you will come out colder than average and you should get some snow storms. You are setting up to be on the edge of snow and ice for Monday.

      Hope that helps


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