Don’t Be Concerned By The Warm Start To December

Firsthand Weather's Final 2014-15 Winter Forecast

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.

Firsthand Weather's Final 2014-15 Winter Forecast

Firsthand Weather’s Final 2014-15 Winter Forecast

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.

Firsthand Weather's 2014-15 Winter Temperature Forecast

Firsthand Weather’s 2014-15 Winter Temperature Forecast

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!

Firsthand Weather’s Final 2014-15 Winter Forecast

Final 2014-15 Winter Forecast - Firsthand Weather

We have finally arrived at the best time of the year! I am beyond thrilled that you have decided to check out this final winter forecast, and my goal is to prepare you for what is to come. There are a lot of variables at play that could influence this upcoming winter, and while I have consistently been predicting another brutal winter across a large portion of the United States since July, putting this forecast together has been a challenge. One must understand that missing one tiny variable can throw off an entire forecast, and given that the ocean/atmosphere connection is so complex, accurately predicting the winter is difficult for even the most experienced weather forecasters.

I have laid out this year’s final winter forecast a little differently than I have in the past. I am going to be giving you a brief overview of what is currently taking place, which will lead me into discussing how that will affect this winter. I will be providing you with three maps: a temperature map, a precipitation map, and the overall winter forecast. This forecast is specifically for a 3-month period ranging from December 1st to February 28th, which is the meteorological winter. In addition to this final winter forecast, I will be providing you with a monthly outlook for each month of the meteorological winter that will be released two weeks before each month begins. For example, my monthly forecast for December will be coming out in mid-November. The reason that I’ll be doing this is because I want you to have a clear picture as to what to expect for each individual month. Winter forecasts are great, but there is a lot that can happen within a 3-month period that is difficult to fully represent in one big forecast.

Overview:

The 2014-15 U.S. winter is shaping up to be another brutal winter with heavy snows and bitter cold for the central and eastern United States. I don’t like saying that this winter will be a repeat of last winter because we have some other variables at play, but in a lot of ways, there could be many similarities.

The warm pool that is over the northern Pacific is still there although it is not nearly as warm as it was earlier this year. That is likely due to an increase in storminess over that region, but I am not overly concerned about that impacting the overall forecast in the states. Warm waters still persist from the northeastern Pacific all the way down the West Coast of the U.S. The northern central Pacific has experienced some cooling, and cooler than average water temperatures are very evident in and around Japan. All of this can favor a colder than average winter in the eastern United States with an increase in storminess. The reason that I mentioned this first is that there has been a much higher focus on the northern Pacific this year because of how it was a main driver of the last U.S. winter. It will once again play a role, but I do not foresee that being the only main driver.

We still do not have an El Nino in place, but latest model guidance still suggests that we will at least be moving into a weak to low-end moderate El Nino by the time we’re full-swing into winter. I am still leaning towards there being a weak El Nino with the focus of higher sea surface temperatures being over the central equatorial Pacific. Because I am expecting this El Nino to stay on the weaker end and the area of highest sea surface temperatures to be over the central equatorial Pacific, this will influence the winter in a much different way than a traditional El Nino winter setup. El Nino will be a driver this winter, but it will not be the only driver. I do expect a very active subtropical jet this winter which will bring heavy rains and mountains snows to California, and an overall increase in storminess over the southern states and up the East Coast. With the colder winter that I am expecting in the eastern United States, you can expect numerous East Coast winter storms this season.

During October, there was a rapid increase in snow cover over Siberia. A rapid increase in snow cover in October over Siberia can prompt a negative Arctic Oscillation winter. When the Arctic oscillation is in its negative phase, brutally cold air is often displaced and pushed over the central and eastern United States, and the storm track is typically much further south. With the active subtropical jet likely setting up across the South due to El Nino and the polar jet stream likely being pushing further south into the eastern United States due to a negative AO, I expect this to be an active and stormy winter for those regions. I have mentioned since July that I thought places that typically do not get snow and ice will be getting it this winter, and I have not changed my mind on that.

There were numerous other factors that I considered when putting together this winter forecast, but in order to keep this forecast reasonably short, I am not going to go into much detail on that. Later this month, I plan on putting out a winter forecast geared more towards the meteorological and scientific community.

Firsthand Weather’s Final 2014-15 Winter Forecast (each region is numbered):

Final 2014-15 Winter Forecast - Firsthand Weather

Final 2014-15 Winter Forecast – Firsthand Weather


Temperature Map:

2014-15 Winter Temperature Map - Firsthand Weather

2014-15 Winter Temperature Map – Firsthand Weather


Precipitation Map: 

2014-15 Winter Precipitation Map - Firsthand Weather

2014-15 Winter Precipitation Map – Firsthand Weather


Region-By-Region Breakdown:

Region 1: Over the last several weeks, the Pacific Northwest has received copious amounts of rainfall, and while the rainy trend may continue for several more weeks, this area should eventually dry out. With the warmer sea surface temperatures still just off the coast, I expect ridging to eventually develop over this region, and overall, bring a warmer and drier than average winter season. Depending on how quickly that ridge begins to build will determine how quickly everything starts to dry out.

Region 2: This region will generally be warmer than average. Most of the Rockies will likely have average to below average snowfall because of the ridging that will likely build over this area. The more southern regions will be the most likely areas to receive some decent precipitation, while the more northern regions will be drier. Since I am expecting an active sub-tropical ridge further south, this should increase rainfall/snowfall amounts across the southern areas.

Region 3: This winter for California is looking good! Over this region, I expect conditions to be very wet especially as we move further into winter. Heavy precipitation throughout the winter could bring overall temperatures down, which is why I put this region in only a slightly above average temperature zone. I decided to extend the above average precipitation zone over all of California since latest trends seem to favor more precipitation further north. While this forecast sounds promising for California, too much rain and snowfall isn’t necessarily a good thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if mudslides became more common over the region this winter.

Region 4: This is the region that could vary throughout the winter. With the expected warmer than average temps out West and colder than average temps out East, you typically have an “in-between” zone like this where the overall outcome of the winter could really go either way. In my temperature map, I put parts of the southern regions in the below-averge zone and some of the northern areas in the above-average zone. That’s mainly because the more southern regions could be wetter, which would likely bring overall temperatures down.

Region 5: I expect another brutal winter across this region with decent snowfall. Last year, this particular region experienced a brutally cold winter with high amounts of snowfall. This region was hit hard because of the weakening of the polar vortex that displaced bitterly cold air over this area. Because I expect the polar jet stream to dive deep into the United States this winter, this would be an area that would likely experience the brunt of the cold. Typically, El Nino winters favor temperatures to be warmer than average over this region, but given that this will be a weak and Modoki-style El Nino setup, I expect the overall pattern to favor colder temperatures. Places like Chicago should expect some big snowfalls throughout the winter.

Region 6: This region will be another area that has to deal with another cold winter similar to last year. Residents in this region should expect frequent blasts of cold air and will also receive decent amounts of snowfall. Eastern parts of this zone may be in a wetter pattern more so than the western zone, but I do expect even the western regions to get decent snowfall throughout the winter.

Region 7: This region can expect frequent Arctic outbreaks and high amounts of snowfall. This upcoming winter is shaping up to be very similar to last winter, especially in regards to the cold. Places from Ohio on up to the Northeast need to brace for what could be a very costly and nasty winter and could result in prolonged periods of brutal cold and snow.

Region 8: This region is the area that I am most concerned about for this upcoming winter. We have a situation where the pattern is going to favor a lot of precipitation due to El Nino and a very cold pattern due to warmer waters in the northeastern Pacific and much higher than average Siberian snow cover, which will likely be responsible for a negative Arctic Oscillation. If all of this comes together, this region could have a winter that they have not experienced in decades. I put most of this region in much-below average temperatures and much-above average precipitation. Places that typically do not get snow and ice will get it, and places that typically only get small amounts of wintry precipitation will get a lot. I expect a very active and wet pattern across the southern states, and I expect the polar jet and the southern jet to interact in a way that could bring about a “snowmageddon” kind of winter along the East Coast. I expect numerous East Coast and Southeast winter storms. Places even as far west as the Southern Plains including Dallas will also likely be hit hard.

Region 9: This region will also experience much below-average temperatures and very wet conditions. Given the expected cold over this region, there could definitely be several winter events along the southern Gulf coast states, which could also include the panhandle of Florida. Florida will likely be wet the entire winter and can expect records to either challenge or break during the coldest periods of the winter. This region could also likely experience a winter that they have not experienced in several decades.

Region 10: Although it is not included on my map, I did want to briefly mention Alaska. I expect ridging to eventually begin building over Alaska, which will bring the state above-average temperatures. Forecast models actually are starting to pick up on a ridge developing over most of the state, and while it may take several weeks, I do expect this eventually to happen.

Conclusion: 

This winter could be another winter similar to the last. But, there are some distinct differences between the winter last year, and what my winter forecast is showing for this upcoming winter. Although this is my “final” winter forecast, I will be posting updates on this winter continuously, and like I stated above, I will be posting monthly outlooks this year.

You can sign up for my newsletter by clicking here! There are only a limited number of slots open (over 3,000 of the 5,000 slots are already taken). Beginning this winter, I will be sending out a weekly newsletter that you DON’T want to miss. Also if your signup, you may be chosen to try out the Firsthand Weather mobile app before it is released, which will be coming out in 2015.

Also, be sure to like Firsthand Weather on Facebook! As many of you know, I post winter updates on there a lot!

I hope that you enjoyed this breakdown of the final 2014-15 winter forecast. If there is anything that you felt was not clearly explained in this forecast, please let me know in the comments so I can correct it! To read my early winter forecast that was released in July, click here.

Siberian Snow Cover May Bring A Brutally Cold 2014-15 Winter

Siberian Snow Cover

Over the past several years, I have put out numerous early and final winter forecasts for the United States with some of them being spot on and some of them not. When doing my research for the upcoming winter, I always come across countless winter forecasts that have been put out by amateur and professional weather forecasters, and it doesn’t matter how much experience a weather forecaster has, the majority of winter forecasts end up being wrong.

Do Meteorologists Weigh Too Heavily On El Niño and La Niña?

The one thing that I have noticed over the last five years is that forecasters weigh too heavily on one variable: ENSO (El Niño/La Niña). Now don’t take that the wrong way! El Niño and La Niña can have huge impacts on the winter months in the mid-latitudes (United States winter), but there are MANY other variables to consider. Like you’ve heard me say many times, the strength of El Niño/La Niña and the placement of the warmer/cooler waters across the central and eastern Pacific can be a determining factor as to how heavily ENSO needs to be considered for that upcoming winter in the United States.

Most of you have heard of the NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) and the AO (Arctic Oscillation). It’s something you hear more about during the winter months, and these are two indices that can heavily impact temperatures and precipitation each winter across the United States. NAO/AO are often considered by most meteorologists and long-range forecasters as wildcard factors, and something that can’t be accurately predicted beyond a 1 to 2 week period. If you’re relying entirely on forecast models to make that prediction for you, then that statement is generally true.

Can Siberian Snow Cover In October Be An Accurate Predictor of the United States Winter?

Since around 2009 or 2010, I have been following the work of Dr. Judah Cohen, the director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER). Dr. Cohen has numerous peer-reviewed publications on the impact that Siberian snow cover has on the upcoming winter months (December, January, and February), and his research shows that the rapid extent of snow cover over Siberia in October can impact the phase of the NAO/AO for that winter.

Snow Forced Cold Signal. Courtesy Judah Cohen - MIT

Snow Forced Cold Signal. Courtesy Judah Cohen – MIT

With that said, one must realize that the Siberian snow cover extent in October alone can’t accurately predict the upcoming winter temperatures across the eastern United States. When you just consider the snow cover extent, only evaluate the monthly value, and include all of Eurasia, the correlation between snow cover and the winter AO is not as strong. Notice the correlation coefficient on the graphic below is 0.41 (a correlation coefficient of 1 would be perfect positive linear correlation).

October Siberia Snow Cover Extent and Winter AO Correlation. Courtesy Dr. Judah Cohen - MIT

October Siberia Snow Cover Extent and Winter AO Correlation. Courtesy Dr. Judah Cohen – MIT

Dr. Cohen and his team have come up with an index called the Snow Advance Index (SAI). The SAI uses daily (instead of monthly) values of snow cover extent over the entire month of October and only considers the region south of 60 degrees north. Notice how the correlation coefficient is nearly 0.86, which shows a strong correlation between the SAI index and the winter AO. This index shows that the rate of snow cover change over this region has a bigger impact on the winter temperatures across the United States vs. the snow cover extent by itself. The negative values on the graphic below would indicate a snowier and colder winter in the eastern United States.

October SAI and Winter AO Correlation. Courtesy Judah Cohen - MIT

October SAI and Winter AO Correlation. Courtesy Judah Cohen – MIT

 

So How Is Everything Looking For the 2014-15 Winter? 

Siberian snow cover is already rapidly expanding, and based on forecast model guidance, that trend is going to continue throughout the rest of the month. Because the SAI considers daily snow extent values, Cohen and his team will not make any predictions until after this month is over. Remember how cold the 2013-14 winter was?? Well, October 2013 had the 4th highest snow cover extent over Eurasia (Siberia) since 46 years of records began. As of October 13, 2014, 12.2 million square kilometers of Eurasia were covered by snow compared to 10.8 million square kilometers around this same time last year. We’re already way ahead of what even occurred last year!

Map Showing Snow Cover Extent Over Siberia as of October 14th, 2014.

Map Showing Snow Cover Extent Over Siberia as of October 14th, 2014.

October 1976 holds the record as having the highest Eurasia snow extent of 17.2 million square kilometers! We all have heard about or remember the notoriously cold 1976-77 winter that broke countless records. In recent years, the 2009-10 and 2010-11 United States winters were heavily impacted by the negative phases of the NAO/AO, which caused bitter cold across a large chunk of the U.S and numerous East Coast winter storms.

We could be heading down that same road again this winter, but we still have two more weeks to go in October. A lot can change in two weeks, but as I stated above, model guidance suggests that this snowy trend over Siberia is going to continue.

GFS model shows snow depth and snow extent increasing in the coming days.

GFS model shows snow depth and snow extent increasing in the coming days.

 

What’s Next? 

I am planning to release my final 2014-15 winter forecast on November 2nd! Before that forecasts comes out, I am going to do a “part 2” of this article explaining exactly how Siberian snow cover expansion can lead to a negative NAO/AO winter, and therefore, bring with it a brutally cold and snowy winter for the eastern United States. Please understand that Siberian snow cover is only one variable that I consider when putting together my final winter forecast.

Please be sure to like the Firsthand Weather Facebook page, where I plan to keep everyone updated on whether or not the Siberian snow cover continues to rapidly expand the second half of this month!

Is El Nino Still Coming By The 2014-15 Winter?

El Nino has continued to be the big talk among meteorologists for most of this year, and just when El Nino seems to be making an appearance, it backs off just enough to keep us below the El Nino classification. To keep things simple, El Nino is simply the warming of waters across the central and eastern Pacific. More specifically, sea surface temperatures have to be at least 0.5 °C (0.9 °F) above average over the east-central tropical Pacific Ocean for a given period of time for an El Nino to be considered in effect. This can have profound effects on the weather around the globe, particularly during the winter months.

What one must realize is that when the El Nino or La Nina events stay weak, there are other variables that can strongly drive the pattern that shapes what the winter will be like. In other words, you can’t just average out all of the weak to weakly moderate El Nino winters and expect to get an accurate forecast for this upcoming winter. One must take into account the placement of warmer waters across the equatorial Pacific and the strength of this event along with other variables that I have discussed in previous articles.

We can take the cold winter of 2013-14 as an example. Water temperatures stayed slightly below average across the central and eastern Pacific this past winter, but the northeastern Pacific warm pool influenced temperatures much more significantly than most meteorologists and forecasters anticipated. My point is that it’s important not to get too hung up this winter on whether or not we’re technically in an El Nino, especially since it’ll likely remain on the weaker side. When I put out my early winter forecast in July, I accounted for a weak to weakly moderate El Nino Modoki, and I still hold to those predictions. In other words, my forecast hasn’t changed much since my original forecast was put out in July.

All regions across the central and eastern Pacific are experiencing above average sea surface temps.

All regions across the central and eastern Pacific are experiencing above average sea surface temps.

Waters across the central and eastern Pacific have consistently remained above average since late spring with the exception of the central Pacific (Nino 3.4 region) very briefly experiencing below average water temps. The atmosphere has had a difficult time responding to these warmer waters this year and hasn’t really induced further warming. It’s still been a struggle even as we get closer to October, but most models still are holding onto the prediction that we will be going into a weak El Nino by this winter. It could even strengthen throughout this winter.

Most models are predicting a weak El Nino by this winter.

Most models are predicting a weak El Nino by this winter.

I will continue to monitor everything closely through the month of October and will be putting out my final 2014-15 winter forecast in late October or early November. I’ll have a specific release date in a couple of weeks. Please follow Firsthand Weather on Facebook to get daily updates on the latest information regarding El Nino and this upcoming winter.

Firsthand Weather's Preliminary 2014-15 Winter Forecast

Firsthand Weather’s Preliminary 2014-15 Winter Forecast

Brutally Cold 2014-15 Winter Shaping Up For The United States

Jamstec model predicting above average temperatures sea surface temps to persist through winter. Courtesy Jamstec website

The 2013-14 winter was a season that I will never be able to forget simply because of the kind of cold Arctic outbreaks that occurred throughout that year. What’s even more remarkable is that the 2013-14 winter became known as that winter that simply would not end, and even this summer, we have seen times when the mid and upper level pattern strongly resembled what would be typical of a winter pattern. We had pretty severe Arctic outbreaks in both 2009-10 and 2010-11 winters but for entirely different reasons than last winter. The main driver of last winter was the warm pool of above average waters over the northeastern Pacific, and this warm pool is still there! It is to blame for a lot of the volatility that we have seen this year in our temperatures across the United States.

You hear a lot about the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and Arctic Oscillation (AO) particularly during the winter months as those indices are very important to monitor each winter and can be the difference between a cold winter in the central and eastern United States and a very warm winter. Last year, it didn’t matter whether we had a positive or negative NAO/AO, and for those of you that followed my forecasts last winter, you may remember me telling you to ignore all the forecasts being put out that were predicting a big warmup simply because the AO/NAO wasn’t negative. It’s rare that you would hear me say something like that, but the reason that it didn’t matter was because of the warm pool in the northeastern Pacific. It led to a more volatile pattern, and even the regions further south and southeast that didn’t necessarily lock into a cold pattern experienced below average temperatures for a good portion of the winter because of the frequent Arctic blasts.

The 2014-15 winter could also be strongly influenced by the warm pool in the northeast Pacific if it persists going into the winter months, and based on some of the things that I have been looking at, chances are good that it will. This would likely lead to another brutally cold winter in the central and eastern United States while the western U.S. would have above average temperatures, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. The good news is that I think central and southern California will receive above average precipitation, and that is due to a developing weak El Nino that will not necessarily be the main driver of this winter but will have some influence. This also means more precipitation across the southern states including the Southwest through the Southern Plains to parts of the Southeast. The regions where the cold air will be in place will have an increased chance at seeing more wintry weather this season, even in locations that typically don’t get any snow/ice.

Jamstec model predicting above average temperatures sea surface temps to persist through winter. Courtesy Jamstec website

Jamstec model predicting above average sea surface temps in NE Pacific to persist through winter. Courtesy Jamstec website

When there is a warm pool of above average sea surface temperatures over the northeast Pacific/Gulf of Alaska, you get ridging to develop up over Alaska and the western U.S. and troughing over the central and eastern United States. This can persist throughout the entire winter (just like last winter) if this warm pool remains in this same place throughout the season. This is what is considered a negative EPO (eastern Pacific oscillation) pattern and typically brings cold air over a large portion of the United States. Due to some other factors that I will explain in a future article, I have reason to believe that the cold air could be more focused in the eastern third of the nation this winter.

There are still a lot of unknowns about this winter, and I am going to monitor everything closely through September and October before I put out a final 2014-15 winter forecast in late October or early November. There have been a lot of bogus forecasts being put out on this upcoming winter, and you just have to ignore them. I strongly believe that this could be another brutally cold winter, and if anything changes my mind, you’ll be the first to know. Remember, there are sites that call for brutally cold winters EVERY SINGLE YEAR just to get high views, but as most of you know, if I think something is going to happen, I tell you WHY.

Here are two links for you to check out: this one here will take you to my region-by-region breakdown on this upcoming winter, and this one here will take you to my detailed winter forecast that gets more into the meteorology behind the forecast. Also, be sure to like Firsthand Weather on Facebook, where I will be putting out updates on this upcoming winter and other weather events.

Firsthand Weather's Preliminary 2014-15 Winter Forecast

Firsthand Weather’s Preliminary 2014-15 Winter Forecast

El Niño and Its Possible Effects On This Upcoming Winter

El Niño Forecast

There continues to be a lot of speculation about the El Niño that will likely develop later this year. As most of you read earlier this year, the majority of meteorologists/climatologists were leaning towards a stronger El Niño developing by this winter, which would have had major influences on the weather around the globe particularly this upcoming winter. Most of them had valid reasons for these predictions, and while most models agreed with these predictions earlier this year, I did point out a couple of reasons why I didn’t think we would go into a super El Niño. Please understand that predicting when an El Niño will develop and how strong it will be can be extremely difficult. 

The reason I care so much about El Niño is because it can influence the weather in a major way, particularly during the winter months. Strength and placement of the warmer waters across the equatorial Pacific play a big role on how much El Niño influences the temperatures and precipitation across the United States. 

For most of this year, the atmosphere has not reacted in a way that would favor the development of an El Niño, although that has begun to change in recent weeks. The atmosphere MUST react to the warmer waters across the equatorial Pacific to further reinforce the buildup of warmer waters across the central and eastern Pacific. Without the help of the atmosphere pushing El Niño along, it simply cannot develop, which is why cooler waters started to re-emerge back over the region that dramatically warmed up earlier this year. This entire process is a ocean-atmosphere system, and when the warmer waters across the equatorial Pacific drive the atmosphere to induce even additional warming of these waters, this is what is referred to as a positive feedback, which is what you need. 

SOI Index

When the SOI index is more negative, this typically means that an El Niño is developing or has already developed

Now that the atmosphere is starting to react to a developing El Niño, the warmer waters will likely begin to emerge to the surface, so it’ll be interesting to watch what takes place over these next several weeks. Typically, winds blow from east to west across the equatorial Pacific, which is referred to as trade winds, but this completely reverses during El Niño events. If you look at the graphic below, you can see that above-average temperatures are beginning to re-develop and re-surface. The top part of the graphic is the ocean surface and the further you go down on the graphic, the deeper the ocean. Notice the darker oranges, and how they’re starting to surface back to the top.

El Nino sea surface temperatures

From everything that I’m seeing, I still believe that we are going to be dealing with an El Niño Modoki event, meaning the warmer waters will be more focused across the central Pacific instead of the eastern Pacific. If you look at previous years that had similar setups, the temperatures during the winter were warmer out West particularly in the Northwest, while it was really cold out East. As I mentioned in my winter forecast, there are other factors that could influence this winter, just because this El Niño will likely stay weak to moderate. If this El Niño were to be stronger than I am anticipating, then I’d have to make some changes to my winter forecast, but I find that to be unlikely at this point. 

El Niño Forecast

Several climate models continue to indicate a developing El Niño.

An El Niño Modoki event would most likely bring wetter conditions to southern California and across most of the Southern Plains and Southeast. Due to the colder-than-average temperatures that I’m expecting further east this winter, this would bring above-average snowfall for many regions across the Southern Plains and Southeast, even in areas that may not see snow too often. The Mid-Atlantic and most of the Northeast will also be very cold with the Mid-Atlantic and parts of the Northeast being impacted by several larger storms this winter. Please read my 2014-15 winter forecast to see what I’m expecting for your area this winter. 

Preliminary 2014-15 Winter Forecast

Firsthand Weather’s Preliminary 2014-15 Winter Forecast

I’m still going to continue to keep a watch on everything. Depending on how everything plays out over the next couple of months will determine how our fall will end up being, and then of course, my main focus will shift to winter. Always remember that things can change, meaning my forecasts are subject-to-change. 

Please continue to follow Firsthand Weather on Facebook, and be sure to like the page if you haven’t already. I always try to keep the Facebook page updated as much as possible. 

Early 2014-15 Winter Forecast: A Region-by-Region Breakdown

Update: Firsthand Weather’s final 2014-15 winter forecast will be released on November 2nd at 2 pm ET on this site.

This is a more simplified version of the preliminary 2014-15 winter forecast that I released on July 20th. In this post, I want to go region-by-region and tell you what I believe this winter entails for those areas. Before I do, please understand that this winter forecast is subject to change, but at this time, I am fairly confident in my current predictions for this upcoming winter. Only time will tell if my predictions verify, and if any changes need to be made, I will do so in my final winter forecast which will be coming out in October.

Two of the points that I made in my preliminary winter forecast was that the strength of the El Nino matters and the placement of the above-average sea surface temperatures across the equatorial Pacific matters. That’s why you can’t come out with one of those “this is your typical weak El Nino winter maps” and call it a winter forecast. It simply won’t work. Also, there are other factors that will be big drivers of this upcoming winter because we will likely only be in a weak to weakly moderate El Nino. The warmer waters in the northern Pacific over the Gulf of Alaska could again be partially responsible for another cold winter in the central and eastern United States, while the West has above-average temperatures.

The warmest waters still remain over the eastern equatorial Pacific, while the central Pacific waters have cooled quite dramatically. I’m not too concerned about this because we’ll likely see those waters across the central Pacific really start to warm back up, while the eastern Pacific will start to see a drop-off in sea surface temperatures in the coming weeks. This is going to have to occur for the El Nino Modoki to kick in, which I have been predicting for some time now. Once those cooler waters start to surface across the eastern Pacific and the waters begin to warm back up across the central Pacific, the atmosphere will likely react in a way that drives further warmer across the central Pacific, due to a larger sea-surface temperature gradient. Many of those who were calling for the unprecedented super El Nino event to develop later this year are now trying to say that nothing could happen at all. They’ll most likely be wrong both times.

If you didn’t see my preliminary 2014-15 winter forecast, be sure to take some time to read it later by clicking here. I go into detail as to why I’m predicting what I’m predicting, but just to warn you, it is quite lengthy! Right now, allow me to break down region-by-region what you can expect for this upcoming 2014-15 winter.

Preliminary 2014-15 Winter Forecast

Firsthand Weather’s Preliminary 2014-15 Winter Forecast

Southeast: The southeastern United States will likely experience well-below average temperatures with many areas across the Southeast getting plenty of snowfall/ice/rain. Last winter, many regions saw above-average snowfall, but that doesn’t always translate to a wetter-than-average winter. This winter across the Southeast will likely be wetter-than-average for most. Because of the cold air that will likely be in place, many regions that typically do not get snow and ice will get it this year. This reminds me of what occurred in 2009-10 when many people living in the Gulf coast states saw snow who hardly ever get it. Unlike last winter, Florida will likely get in on the really cold air this year since a lot of the cold air could be more focused in the eastern U.S. Expect several big storms to move across this region this winter and impact many living in this area.

Mid-Atlantic: The Mid-Atlantic could even see a snowier winter than last winter and likely experience well-below average temperatures. This winter could rival some of the “snowpocalyptic” winters that occurred a few years back, which will likely end up making this a highly discussed topic throughout the winter. This will likely be a wetter-than-average winter for the Mid-Atlantic, and this region will likely feel the effects of low pressure systems bombing off the East Coast. This area will probably be impacted by several storms this season and may even feel the effects of a pre-season storm that may try to develop.

Northeast and Great Lakes: A good portion of the Northeast will likely experience a colder-than-average winter, but it really depends on where you’re located. Places in the northern Northeast like Maine could actually have around average temperatures and snowfall, while regions more to the south and along the coast may feel the effects of heavier snowfall and brutally cold air. The Great Lakes region will be brutally cold; however lake-effect snowfall could be considerably less this year. This was hard for me to include on my winter map, which is why I wanted to mention it here. Waters on the lakes are still very cold from this past winter with chunks of ice that were still being spotted as late as this past July 4th. This will likely have an effect on the lake-effect snow machine this upcoming winter.

Tennessee Valley & Ohio Valley: Most of this region will likely experience brutally cold temperatures with the Ohio Valley and a good portion of the Tennessee Valley having good shots at getting some heavy snowfall this year. The Ohio Valley, in particular, could have another year of average to above-average snowfall and overall, may even be wetter-than-average. The Tennessee Valley, particularly in the eastern regions, will likely have average to above average snowfall also. Sometimes, parts of this area can miss out on the good snowfall, but if this occurs, I only see this happening in the more western areas of the Tennessee Valley.

Southern Plains: The Southern Plains will also likely experience well-below average temperatures with higher-than-average snowfall/ice, and overall, most of this region will be wet, some areas more than others. This is another region that could have areas getting snowfall/ice that typically don’t get it. Several storms will likely track across this region throughout the winter with several places across Texas having a decent chance at getting some good snowfall this year. This region will be in the path of some of the Arctic blasts that will likely dive pretty far south this winter.

Northern Plains: The Northern Plains will likely be in a region that experiences brutally cold air diving south from the Arctic, but some areas will be impacted more than others, particularly eastern sections. Precipitation/snowfall could be around average, maybe even below average once you move more west. This is one of those regions that I’m a little more uncertain about and will have to watch closely as we get closer to winter.

Southwest: The Southwest may actually have a decent shot at getting some good rainfall/snowfall to help put a small dent in the drought this winter. While this region will likely have above-average temperatures overall, I’m feel pretty optimistic for the southern regions across California. The further north you get though, the drier things will get. If we do get a lot of storm systems moving through this region, that may bring the overall temperature averages down somewhat, but for now, I’m still calling for above-average temperatures.

Northwest: This region will likely be dealing with well-above average temperatures and once again, very dry conditions. This area will probably feel the effects of another winter that brings ridging over the region; therefore, warmer and drier conditions.

As I stated, some of this will change as we get closer to this winter, but for now, I think things look really good with the forecast overall. For those of you that do not follow Firsthand Weather on Facebook, you definitely want to like the page by clicking here. I will be putting MANY updates on there regarding this upcoming winter over the next several months.

Preliminary 2014-15 Winter Forecast

Preliminary 2014-15 Winter Forecast

As I begin to prepare my winter forecast each year, my main goal is always to identify what is going to drive the upcoming winter. You may be asking yourself why in the world I would even attempt to put out a winter forecast this early. Some would even argue that seasonal forecasts are pointless and inaccurate. By putting out an early winter forecast, it allows me to take all of my research thus far on the upcoming winter and put it all together in a way that reveals to me what will likely take place this winter. I just happen to make that information freely available to you also! Seasonal forecasts can be very accurate if the right assumptions are made and if you interpret correctly what will occur as a result. If you’re wrong on your assumptions for the upcoming winter, then the forecast will likely be completely off. I will show you what I think is going to happen this upcoming winter, and why I think it will happen. I will explain all of my certainties and my uncertainties for this upcoming winter. My final winter forecast will be released in October, which will be a revised and more-detailed version of this preliminary outlook.

Preliminary 2014-15 Winter Forecast

Firsthand Weather’s Preliminary 2014-15 Winter Forecast

Most of you heard all of the talk earlier this year about the so-called super El Nino that was going to develop by this winter, but I really never bought into that happening. There’s no denying that there were similarities between this year and the developing super El Nino of 1997-98, but there were also some major differences. The atmosphere did not react in a way that would necessarily be expected for a coming strong El Nino, and we are now seeing strong indications that the upcoming winter will likely bring a weak El Nino. This means that this upcoming winter will only partially be driven by El Nino, and that there will be other potentially bigger drivers that could influence the United States winter. We saw a similar situation occur last winter, where we were in a neutral  ENSO pattern with other variables driving the winter instead.

So I need to know how strong the El Nino is going to be, and where the location of the warmest waters along the equatorial Pacific will be at this winter. No, we are not going to be going into a Super El Nino, which would have brought us an entirely different winter than we are going to get. Typically when you have stronger El Nino events, the polar jet stream stays further to the north, trapping that Arctic air north and not impacting the United States. However, when you get a weaker El Nino, that doesn’t usually happen because you have other variables that often influence the weather more. That makes it a little more tricky because you have to start identifying those other factors.

To keep things simple, you have an El Nino when sea surface temperatures are above average for an extended period of time over the east-central tropical Pacific. I wrote an article about a month ago explaining what an El Nino was and how it developed, so be sure to check that out if you have any unanswered questions. Another very important factor to take into account is where those warmer waters are located. The difference between having a more west-based vs. east-based El Nino makes a HUGE difference in what the winter will be like. Right now, the warmer waters are in the eastern Pacific, but that is going to likely shift over the next two to three months. You’ll start to notice that the region of warmer waters will be over the central Pacific, surrounded by cooler waters on both sides.

So far, I have identified two very important factors: that the El Nino will likely be weaker, and that it will likely be a more west-based El Nino, which I will refer to as El Nino Modoki. Our last El Nino Modoki occurred in 2009-10, and this phenomenon has been more common in recent decades. The reason I have went through all of this explanation is to show you why you can’t simply come to the conclusion on what the winter will be like simply by saying that it’ll be an El Nino winter. Strength and location DO matter!

Here are the predicted sea surface temperatures: one from June through August and one from December to February. Notice how the warmest temperatures shift from the eastern Pacific and move westward towards the central Pacific by this upcoming winter.

June through August

June through August

December through February

December through February

Now that you’ve had to read through all of that, allow me to start making some predictions, followed by even more explanation on why I feel so strongly about these predictions. I am seeing strong indications that the central and eastern United States will see another brutally cold winter with some areas in the eastern United States potentially getting even colder temperatures than last winter. This will partially be driven by El Nino Modoki, and I’ll explain one of the other main drivers later in this article.

When you have an El Nino Modoki, temperatures across the United States can be a lot different than what you would have with a more east-based El Nino. With an El Nino Modoki, you typically have temperatures that are above average in the Pacific Northwest and below average in the southeastern United States. Now, that’s not saying that other regions will have only average temperatures (which is far from the truth), but that the Pacific Northwest and Southeast are typically the two regions that have the largest departures from average temperatures during El Nino Modoki years. Again, the 2009-10 winter is the most recent winter where we can see this occurring as a result of this type of El Nino. Obviously, the stronger the El Nino Modoki, the more likely this is to be a main driver, but as I stated, this El Nino will likely be weaker.

I believe that El Nino is going to be a factor this year, but I don’t think it will be the only driver or even the main driver of this winter. If you look at a sea surface temperature map again, you’ll notice above average sea surface temps in the northeast Pacific Ocean in the Gulf of Alaska. You can thank those warmer temperatures for the ridging that built up over Alaska and the western United States last winter, which caused the brutally cold winter for the central and eastern United States. With the combination of the weak El Nino Modoki likely setting up and the likelihood of sea surface temperatures remaining above normal over the Gulf of Alaska, this winter could, in fact, be colder for the eastern United States than last winter, and likely just as cold in the central United States. The western United States would again have above average temperatures with the Pacific Northwest having the highest departures from average. In fact, the Pacific Northwest could be warmer than last winter, while the southwestern United States could have similar temperatures to last winter.

Notice the warmer waters over the Gulf of Alaska

Notice the warmer waters over the Gulf of Alaska

Like I stated above, some of the coldest temperatures could end up being more focused in the eastern United States, where even Florida could get in on the below-average temperatures. Florida actually generally had above-average temperatures last winter, while the rest of the East experienced bitter cold. I don’t think that this will be the case this year, as the Arctic air could push well to the South. The only exception that I see to this is Maine having average to maybe above-average temperatures, but that is still questionable and a difficult call.

The sub-tropical jet stream will likely be very active across the South, where regions from the Southern Plains to the Southeast on up to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast will likely get plenty of snow/ice this year. I do expect there to be several big storms this year, and places that typically do not get snow or ice will get it this year. I will continue to watch how strong of an El Nino takes hold, and that will play somewhat of a role as to how wet things end up being. We could have several storms that bomb off the East Coast again this year, so regions up the East Coast could get hammered. Again, areas from the Southern Plains to the Southeast will likely get snow/ice, and there will likely end up being a lot of talk about how unusual this upcoming winter is for those areas.

Southern California and surrounding regions will likely get some relief from the drought as I expect precipitation to be average to above-average. This is another one of those things that I am still questioning; however, I do see good indications of a wetter-season. Waters are very warm off the Californian coast, and the pattern could favor some big rain events for that area this winter. I’ll continue to keep a close watch on that, and if I need to make changes on that prediction by this October, I will.

Once you get up to the Pacific Northwest, it will end up being warm and likely very dry. Again, that is the region that could end up experiencing temperatures well above-average. I’m thinking that the western United States will generally have above average temperatures, and most likely, below-average snowfall/precip. We will probably have another winter where there will be a lot of ridging over that area.

The Northern Plains and Midwest will likely have below-average temperatures. In fact, temperatures could end up being quite brutal at times due to troughing that will likely set up over the region this winter. We could have another polar-vortex driven winter, where pieces of the vortex break off and push well to the south. This is a similar scenario that occurred last winter and could in fact happen again this winter.

There are several other indications that are pointing to another cold winter in the central and eastern United States. A combination of several climate models are showing that precipitation will be higher over Eurasia come this October. High snow cover over this region in October can lead to colder temperatures in the eastern United States the following winter. The theory that higher snow cover over Eurasia in October translates to a colder winter in the eastern US has held up quite well over the years. I believe that this also takes into account the rate of snow-cover change over this timeframe.

Climate models predict higher precip over Eurasia.

Climate models predict higher precip over Eurasia.

Sunspot activity is also a factor that I often look into when I’m putting together a winter forecast. This is something that I will likely look into more when I’m putting together my final winter forecast in October, but generally, sunspot activity has been decreasing in recent months. In fact, we just had our first spotless day since 2011 just a few days ago. Winters tend to be colder when there is a lack of sunspot activity, so if this trend continues, that could be another variable that drives temperatures down across the United States this winter.

Sea surface temperatures across parts of the Atlantic need to be watched closely this year also. Ridging over the northern Atlantic can lock the central and eastern United States into a cold pattern if you have ridging out over Alaska and the western US. Sea surfaces temperatures play a big role in this occurring, which is why it’s important to have a good handle on predicting what’s going to occur in the oceans.

Throughout this year leading up to this winter, I will continue to give you more information and updates as I get them. It’s still July, so there will be some changes that have to be made between now and this winter. As I stated above, I will be putting out a final winter forecast in October, and it will break things down even further than I did in this preliminary forecast. If you currently don’t like the Firsthand Weather Facebook page, click here. I will be putting out a lot of updates on there regarding this winter, and you definitely don’t want to miss those!!

Thanks for taking the time to read this preliminary winter forecast, and I can only hope that you get the kind of winter that you’re wishing for!