I think what baffles me the most as a weather forecast is how many weather forecasters and meteorologists will totally flip on a forecast just because the latest medium and long-range forecast model guidance has flipped. That’s why I continue to say that forecasters have become too reliant on forecast model guidance and will not make an actual forecast unless they are completely backed up by the models. The only problem with that is forecast models like the GFS become pretty useless beyond a week and definitely can’t be relied on when we’re transitioning into winter. I look at a lot of different things to make my 2 to 4 week forecasts and then wait to see if I start getting support from the model guidance a week or so out. Models are a very useful and necessary tool but ARE NOT to be used as a forecast.
When I started to see signs a couple weeks ago that a brief warmup would be coming in early December, then I knew that this was something that I would eventually have to address. We had a record-breaking cold November, a record-breaking lake-effect snow event, and a big East Coast storm, so by this point, we’ve all pretty much locked into a winter mindset. The only regions that experienced above average temps in November were the Southwest and parts of the West Coast. Everywhere else was mostly cold.
A warmup is on the way for the United States in early December, and this is only a temporary moderation in temperatures before we flip back cold in mid-December. Yes, I am well aware that models extend the warmth beyond that, but models have been biased warm in the long-range (particularly the GFS) for several months now. Two weeks before Thanksgiving, everyone was forecasting a huge ridge (warmth) across the East Coast because the models were projecting that. All that any weather forecaster had to do was look at the big picture and could have known that that was likely not going to happen. About a week before, model guidance finally started to hint at a cold pattern for the central and eastern U.S., and then we had a big East Coast winter storm. That’s the exact opposite of what was forecasted just two weeks before (if someone was basing their forecast entirely off the models).
I know that I seem to be ranting, but my point is that it is very unwise to start questioning an entire winter forecast because a warmup is on the way. I’ve been writing forecasts for the public for 5 years now, and it seems like I’m always having to explain that winter is still coming despite some warmer temperatures that may come before or in between. I don’t blame the general public (most of my readers) for the confusion, but I blame the local TV meteorologists who don’t seem to know how to actually forecast. Yes, I know that’s harsh and blunt. (By the way, there are some incredible TV meteorologists out there who are great at what they do, and whom I highly respect).
Firsthand Weather is still forecasting a brutally cold and active winter for a good portion of the United States. We locked into a cold pattern in November, and every locked-in cold pattern has to relax at some point. That’s what’s currently about to take place, and the cold pattern will re-establish itself over the central and eastern United States later this month. The bulk of the cold will come in January and February, and as I noted in my December forecast, this month is going to be more volatile. There are going to be fluctuations in temperatures this month for most of us.
Every blockbuster winter has a warmup, and most of the analogs for this winter have a warmup sometime before the winter really locks in. I would have been very concerned had we not snapped out of the cold pattern early on because it would have likely messed up my overall forecast. Our pattern across the United States is going to flatten out, and when you get a active sub-tropical jet stream that begins to set up along the West Coast like we have now, that often causes our flow of air to come from the warmer Pacific initially instead of the colder Arctic. There are a lot of other factors that will eventually override this. I have explained all of this in previous articles and updates so please refer to all of those.
If you like cold and snow, then don’t fret! The winter forecast is still looking like it will come to fruition, and if anything needs to be changed, I will not hesitate to do so. Thanks for all of your continued support of Firsthand Weather. All of my great readers make the hard work and time that goes into Firsthand Weather totally worth it!
Matthew Holliday is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, where he completed a B.S. in Meteorology and a B.S. in Geographic Information Science. He is currently pursing his master's degree in meteorology and climatology at Mississippi State University. Matthew founded Firsthand Weather in 2010 as a senior in high school and maintained the site through his undergraduate career. Research that was conducted by Matthew while at OU involved determining the synoptic environment in which various types of wave clouds (including vertically propagating waves and trapped waves) develop in Boulder, Colorado and Norman, OK. Matthew also did research on spatial changes in tornado activity across the United States . The goal of this study was to determine if spatial changes in tornado activity had occurred and if those changes could be linked to changes in average surface dew point temperature. Matthew has completed coursework in dynamics, thermodynamics, cloud physics, calculus and differential equations, statistics, remote sensing, GIS, synoptic meteorology, and mesoscale meteorology. His goal is to provide his audience with a deeper understanding of what drives our weather and climate, while making it easy and enjoyable to learn.