Early 2016-17 Winter Forecast

We have once again reached that time of year when Firsthand Weather releases its early winter forecast. Before we continue with this discussion, I want everyone reading this forecast to realize that this is an early winter forecast, and that some changes may have to be made in the final winter forecast set to released in early November. Generally, significant changes don’t have to be made in the final forecast, but to give an example from last winter’s forecast, the final forecast featured very warm and dry conditions over the Southwest (including southern California) whereas I had previously called for those regions to be wet in the preliminary forecast, despite being very skeptical even then.

In this forecast, there are three sections. The first section includes some of the high points, which then leads into the main and second section, the region-by-region winter forecast. Simply find your location on the map below, which includes your region’s number. Each section is numbered in the region-by-region breakdown, which corresponds to the number on the map. The last section includes my concluding thoughts. DO NOT just look at the map without reading the discussion that goes along with it, because the map does not include most of the details.

For those who have followed the Firsthand Weather forecasts over the years, you already know that I don’t mind telling you what I’m uncertain about in a forecast and will do the same thing in this forecast. Particularly take note of my uncertainties, and we will discuss those uncertainties in the coming months in my newsletter and on the website as this forecast evolves. This early winter forecast is based on previous winters that could be similar to the 2016-17 winter, my own research, and peer-reviewed research published in various academic journals. With that said, there are details that I simply won’t know until October/November, which won’t be incorporated until the final forecast.

Early 2016-17 Winter Forecast:

2016-17 Winter Forecast

Hitting The High Points:

We have finally wrapped up one of our strongest El Nino’s in recorded history and have started to make a transition into a La Nina-like state. However, most model guidance has substantially backed off on the prospect of a moderate to strong La Nina developing by this winter and is now more in line with a weak La Nina evolving with time.

Also, above average sea surface temperatures are in place over the northeast Pacific, which extend into the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea regions. It would be unprecedented for a moderate to strong La Nina event to evolve without there being significant cooling in parts of the northeast Pacific (a horseshoe of below average sea surface temperatures in the northeast Pacific with a tongue of warmer waters just west). However, the opposite has occurred in that region, which is indicative that a weaker La Nina event may only evolve, resulting in an entirely different 2016-17 winter forecast. Remember though, it is still early August, and there is plenty of time for a change.

Instead of temperatures being above average along and east of the Mississippi River and cooler over the western U.S. like some of the previous La Nina winters with strong cooling in the northeast Pacific, the placement of the warmer sea surface temperatures this upcoming winter could once again have a major influence on our overall pattern, similar to what occurred during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 winters. However, this is contingent on the La Nina event staying weak and warming persisting in the northeast Pacific, and it’s important to note that there should still be some noteworthy differences this winter compared to those recent two.

With all of that said, I want to hit a few of the high points in the form of a bullet point list before we get into the regional forecasts.

• Parts of the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and East Coast will likely start the winter warm due to southeast ridging, but it should get much more active and colder in January and February.
• This year’s wintry battle zone is from the Southern Plains into the Ohio Valley and parts of the Great Lakes. This region should stay active throughout the winter with very cold conditions over the Ohio River and Great Lakes region.
• The Northern Plains and Upper Midwest will be dealing with brutally cold temperatures, especially early. It is possible that some of the western zones could warm up later in the winter, however.
• The Northeast, especially western regions, will be cold with quite a few snow chances. The coastal regions in New England will be cold later in the winter, but not quite cold as areas to the west.
• The Pacific Northwest should start out with an active and cold winter, but it’s a bit uncertain whether or not that will continue later in the winter. That’s currently one of our biggest uncertainties in this forecast.
• Drought conditions will prevail across the Southwest, especially over southern California. It’ll be quite warm, too
• Overall, the winter should start out very cold from the Northern Plains extending over to the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes region, and western parts of the Northeast. This cold could spill southward down into parts of the Southern Plains, Mississippi Valley, and even parts of the Tennessee Valley early in the winter, too. Conditions should progressively get colder later in the winter for regions closer to the East Coast, as winter may start late farther east and southeastward. It is also possible that the Plains will warm up late winter, while the eastern U.S. has colder than average temperatures late winter.

One side note: this forecast is for the period December 1st to February 28th, although it’s very possible some of the conditions described will start later in November and end early March.

Early 2016-17 Winter Forecast By Region:

Region 1: Out of all of the eleven regions included in this forecast, this is probably the one I’m most uncertain about this winter. I expect ridging to eventually build into this region, especially later in the winter, but the exact placement of this ridge will determine just how above average temperatures are or if they’re even above average at all! The winter could very well start out fairly active with numerous storm systems moving into the Pacific Northwest region and then down across the Rockies, but as the winter progresses, temperatures should end up pushing above average overall with coastal regions drying out by late winter. At least that’s what I’m going with for now.

Now, the tricky part is determining just how long this active pattern could persist into the winter for coastal regions, and that’s where I remain uncertain. Some of the analogs that I used had northern California to Washington exceptionally wet throughout the entire winter, while others were exceptionally dry. What this means is that I may have to make some changes in the final forecast in November upon further research and after observing later trends. While the sea surface temperatures anomalies favor ridging potentially developing along the West Coast and extending into Alaska, exact ridge placement is very important and makes a huge difference in weather conditions across this region.

Just to reiterate and bring all of this together, I expect temperatures to start out below average across most of this region with above average temperatures prevailing by the end of the winter. The storm track could be active across this region early in the winter bringing heavy rains and mountain snows early, but overall temperature averages should end up evening out by the end of the winter with a possible drying trend by late winter.

Region 2: Once again, temperatures across most of this region will likely end up being above average for most of the winter, although extreme western Texas could manage to end up with temperatures closer to average. Conditions will be drier the closer to the coast one is located. In other words, central and southern California will be exceptionally dry this winter, while areas a bit farther west into parts of Arizona and New Mexico could manage to get around average precipitation.

Expect below-average mountain snows across the lower two-thirds of California, and expect drought conditions to worsen especially as winter comes to an end. Elsewhere in this region, snowfall amounts will generally be below-average, although I can’t rule out one or two noteworthy winter storms impacting parts of New Mexico and Arizona. However, most winter activity will occur elsewhere across the United States this year.

Once again, my biggest concern is over the lower two-thirds of California, a region that has not benefitted from monsoonal rains like their neighbors to the east of them have. The severe California drought will continue to be a big newsworthy topic.

Region 3: This region falls is in one of those awkward zones, where conditions are expected to be warm and dry to the southwest but very cold just to the northeast. While it could easily swing either way, I’m currently expecting temperatures to run slightly below average across most of this area with temperatures closer to average in the southwestern fringes of this zone. It’s definitely possible that the winter will start out active and cold and then moderate later on.

Snowfall should end up close to average, but there will be places that end up with above average snowfall. This winter shouldn’t be a huge loss for ski resorts across this region, but if you’re looking to hit the slopes, you might want to make the trip early in the winter in case the area does see less activity and cold later on. As all of you know in this region, this area can get a snowstorm out of nowhere late in the year, but predicting when those storms will hit this far in advance is next to impossible!

Region 4: Most of this region should start out very cold this winter, and while the brutal cold could relax some late winter over eastern Montana, northeastern Wyoming, and over western parts of North Dakota and South Dakota, temperatures should run below average and possibly even well-below average at times from the eastern half of the Northern Plains over to the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes region fairly consistently.

Snowfall amounts should run about average over the Northern Plains to the western portions of this zone, but the eastern half of this zone could end up with above average snowfall, thanks to the combination of northern stream systems moving across the area, and at times, from systems tracking up from southern regions and dumping snow into the area.

This winter will be a stark contrast from the well-above average temperatures that this area felt last winter. So again, temperatures will be brutally cold this winter with below-average temperatures overall early in the winter with a possible moderation in temperatures later in the winter for the western third of this zone. Everyone else can expect temperatures to end up below average overall. Places like Chicago should definitely get some decent snows this year.

Region 5: This region tends to get “stuck in the middle” sometimes, especially those located in the Central Plains. Ridging should remain fairly prominent to the west of this region this upcoming winter, but the location of the ridge axis is very pivotal in determining just how cold it will end up being. The 2013-14 winter is a good example of how ridging was far enough west to allow for a very cold winter across this entire zone that year, whereas ridging was slightly farther east the following winter, which resulted in western parts of the zone having above average temperatures overall.

For this upcoming winter, I expect temperatures to be below average overall with Arctic air pushing into the area on numerous occasions. Temperatures could moderate some across the Central Plains later in the winter, but the rest of this region should stay very cold throughout.

Forecasting snowfall amount anomalies gets a bit trickier, but I do feel that this area will tend to fall on the snowy side of most of the systems that actually do impact the area. If there is a “rip-off zone”, it will probably tend to be more towards northwestern part of this region in the Central Plains, while those in the eastern two-thirds of this region should end up with average snowfall. With that said, actual precipitation amounts won’t be overly impressive with liquid equivalent amounts probably running around average to below average.

Again, the biggest hindrance from getting big snowfall totals overall will likely be from systems sliding just a little too far south and northern stream systems sliding just to the north. Probably the greatest snowfall chances will come early in the winter for the Central Plains portions of this region.

Region 6: This is the region that has made it into the wintry battle zone this year, mainly because Arctic air could intrude into the area numerous times throughout this winter, and winter storm activity could be heightened, even early on in the winter. This region should remain sandwiched between southeast ridging early in the winter and Arctic air masses swinging down from Canada and could be downright cold by January and February.

Expect average to above average snowfall across the Ohio River Valley and along parts of the Tennessee Valley. Icing could be more of an issue into the southern regions of this zone, including locations such as northern Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, extreme northern Louisiana, the northern half of Mississippi, southern Missouri, and western Tennessee. Snow chances could increase later in the winter across those same areas since the storm track will probably be a bit farther south at that point, as ridging to the east flattens out quite a bit.

Temperatures will generally be below-average across this region with the possibility of well-below average temperatures into the Ohio Valley region and Great Lakes area. If ridging over the western U.S. does happen to expand far enough eastward, it could bump up temperatures a bit in the Southern Plains, but that would likely only affect the western parts of this zone and not even until later in the winter.

Overall, expect an active winter across this region with quite a few systems to keep track of.

Region 7: Temperatures should end up pretty cool/cold across this region this winter with below average temperatures for most. There will be times that Arctic air will actually manage to get into this zone, especially in the eastern two-thirds. Temperatures might actually end up closer to average in the far western segment of this zone, right under the panhandle, but that should be the exception.

Overall, precipitation should be below average with the exception possibly being Mississippi and Alabama, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be any activity at all. Remember, we’re trying to capture the overall picture over the span of three months. Since this region does fall close to the wintry battle zone, those in the far northern regions extending from eastern half of Texas and over could have to deal with some icing issues this winter; however, that threat decreases farther south. In the far western part of this zone just below the panhandle, it is possible that the region could have to deal with early season snowfall, but that’s not necessarily out of the ordinary.

Again, temperatures should end up cold overall but with drier conditions prevailing. However, that doesn’t mean the area won’t have some wintry weather in northern and western areas.

Region 8: If you’re included in this region, you also need to read region 4 if you’re in the two left dark blue regions and region 9 if you’re in the far right dark blue region. That information is also relevant to you. This discussion is strictly about lake-effect snowfall.

This upcoming winter should be a big lake-effect producing winter across this region. The lake-effect snow season should start off quite strong, probably even before the official start of the meteorological winter, which is December 1st. After a strong start, things should definitely calm down a bit around mid winter. However, I do believe that snow amounts will generally be above to well-above average across these areas by the end of the winter.

Region 9: After a mild and mostly snowless winter last year, this upcoming winter should be quite a contrast to that, especially for those in western parts of this zone. Expect temperatures to run below average overall, although temperatures could run closer to average the closer to the coast one is located. Temperatures should start out cold early in the winter for at least the western half of this zone with temperatures not quite as bad closer to the coast but likely still cold. Temperatures should remain below average through January and February for the western half of this zone with temperatures average to below average in the eastern half.

Inland snowfall amounts should end up quite decent for most of this area, and it’s definitely possible that a lot of the inland regions could end up with above average snowfall. Several northern branch systems will likely impact the region, along with additional systems that will make it into the area after impacting regions in the wintry battle zone depicted on the map.

The area in this zone likely to have snowfall closer to average will be coastal regions and far northeastern parts of this zone. With such warm waters off the coast that will likely remain into winter, this may have a negative impact on overall snow totals for coastal regions and even on the extent of colder weather early on in the season along those areas.

Just to summarize, expect below average temperatures across the western half of this zone with numerous intrusions of Arctic air making it into the region. Temperatures will run average to below average closer to the coast with it likely being warmest in that area early in the winter. Snowfall should run above average in the western half of this zone but should end up closer to average near the coast, although it really only takes one or two big storms to do that. Compared to last winter, this winter will be much better for businesses that rely on snow falling across the region.

Region 10: Initially, it is very possible that southeast ridging will be present in this region; however, this ridge should begin to flatten out in January and February or possibly even be absent at that point. We saw this occur during the 2013-14 winter, which ultimately was a blockbuster winter in this zone with several winter storms impacting the area.

Most of the winter storm activity likely won’t occur until January and February with numerous winter storm chances emerging throughout that time period. Out of those several chances, two, maybe three of those, will materialize into something noteworthy. Those in the Appalachian Mountains could very well see higher snowfall probabilities, thanks to the addition of northwest flow setups.

Over the three-month period, temperatures should run average to slightly below average, but keep in mind that this will be due to a late start. So basically, temperatures could run above average in December but will probably go below average, or even well-below average at times, through January and February. Precipitation amounts should generally be above average across most of this region. Average to above average snowfall totals will be common with the exception being in southern parts of this region, where icing could be more of a concern (areas generally south of Atlanta/Birmingham, etc.). Icing is not guaranteed in extreme southern parts of this zone and for those closer to the Georgia and Carolina coasts, but the potential will still be there.

Just to reiterate, this will most likely shape up to be an active winter across this region with several potent Arctic intrusions dropping across the area later in the winter. Some may be tempted to believe that their neighbors to the west and north are getting the more active winter, but just hang in a few weeks if you’re looking to see some snow and ice.

Region 11: This is always a very interesting and oftentimes difficult region to forecast each winter, mainly because it’s hard to determine if Arctic air will manage to get far enough south to have a major impact in this zone. On the map, I indicate that this zone will remain under the influence of southeast ridging for most of the winter, but I want to elaborate on that a bit more.

Much of Florida should end up with temperatures above normal as a whole this winter, although that’s not to say that an Arctic front or two won’t sweep down across the state enough to bring a major chill to the area. Remember though, we’re looking at the winter as a whole, and a couple of intrusions of Arctic air likely won’t be prolonged enough to bring the overall averages down, given the possibility of persistent ridging overall.

Now, let’s talk about the very northern regions of this zone, which get a bit more uncertain. As you can see, the panhandle of Florida, extreme southern Alabama, and extreme southern Georgia fall very close to my region 10, meaning those regions could indeed end up having temperatures closer to average overall. I could see those same areas getting some fairly noteworthy freezes, especially later in the winter, as ridging could flatten out quite a bit by that point.

Precipitation should run about average overall with a few spots ending up with above average precipitation when all is said and done. Precipitation amounts shouldn’t be nearly as high as what would occur during an El Nino winter, so compared to last winter, precipitation amounts should generally be less.

Concluding Thoughts:

Just to conclude, I want to mention again that it’s important to keep in mind that this is our early winter forecast, and it’s not uncommon for some changes to be made between now and winter. At this point, we just want you to see our ideas thus far, and in return, we want you to realize that there are limitations to seasonal forecasting.

I want to encourage you to take a look at some of the winters that could be similar to this upcoming winter. The 1983-84, 1995-96, and 2013-14 winters are good ones to look at, although they won’t be exact replicas of the upcoming winter. I tend to not just blend similar years together and make that the forecast, but instead, I take a handful of similar years and analyze them each individually. What if this La Nina ends up being a bit stronger than expected and/or the northeast Pacific cools significantly? Take a look at the 2007-08 winter. It’s always very important to look at the range of possibilities especially this far out even if they don’t exactly line up with the current forecast.

While we feel we generally have a good grasp of the regions that could end up colder/warmer than average temperatures overall this winter, it is still yet to be determined how severe the cold/warmth could be over a given region. There is a lot more information/factors that we consider aside from analog years, and that information won’t be available until the October/November timeframe.
In the coming months, I will be sending out a lot of the actual research on the upcoming winter through my weekly newsletter. This article gave you the actual forecast but a lot of the research was excluded to keep this article “short.” I encourage you to sign up for the newsletter by clicking here (make sure you confirm you signed up), and in addition to the research, you’ll be getting a 7-day forecast each week, too!

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Thanks for taking the time to read this forecast, and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with us!