The first snowfall in Flagstaff, AZ this past week has triggered my review of the up-coming winter. The snowfall was barely a dusting around the great volcano we call “The Peaks,” but it none-the-less ushers in the autumnal colors of the Aspens and skins-over the stock tanks with thin coats of ice at the corral.
As is my recent annual custom, I offer-up generalized weather forecasts on the coming winter, 2013 – 2014. It is said that weather forecasters are paid to be wrong. In my case, I am not paid, so this is simply offered out of sheer fascination and hope that some might be better prepared for what may be a “wooly winter.”
Observations and remarks:
Weather prediction is never an easy thing, and these past few years have presented challenges for forecasters, for me, and for all of us who must endure what the weather throws at us. This past year (and even this past week–the last of September 2013), has been remarkable in many ways, weather-wise:
– Hurricane Sandy etched its way into our recent memory, and we cry “never again!” (Well, we can hope!)
– Record flooding monsoonal rains in Colorado, in Northern Arizona, in the Southern US, and elsewhere.
– Mexico still reels from a recent double-whopper storm.
– Still, some areas of the US remain drought-stricken.
– The Pacific Northwest just finished-with record-breaking rainfall and hurricane force winds (Astoria, Oregon, has broken FOUR records: (1) Wettest September on record, (2) Most rain in one day on record, (3) Highest two-day rainfall, and (4) Highest three-day rainfall amount, per “The Weather Channel”).
I will start the expected forecast discussions with some basic concepts of forecasting long-range weather patterns:
– Persistence: what happened recently, or last year, happens in the near-future.
– Climatology: what normally happens continues to happen.
– Anomaly: things like volcanic eruptions, “El Nino,” or “La Nina” affect our weather in “somewhat predictable” ways.
So then, what’s in store, what could happen, and how do the various weather forecasting entities think we’ll fare this winter?
The Forecast: Well, I’m leaning to “Persistence” and “Anomaly.”
First, La Nina is running as strong as ever in the equatorial regions of the Pacific, and I see a similar pattern across the Atlantic. Although we had expected a weak “El Nino” last winter, this did not materialize. Rather, “La Nina” has persisted over the past couple of years, but I don’t think I’ve seen it this strong before.
La Nina, “The Little Girl,” is a cold current moving from west to east like a river in the Pacific, and it typically suggests colder winters in North America, in the Rockies, and unusually-wet winters on the Pacific Northwest Coast. It may suggest heavy snow in the Northeast.
(La Nina and it’s “brother,” El Nino, are somewhat regular cyclical oscillations tied to the “Southern Oscillation,” and you may read about these in more detail by clicking this link to a prior article of mine. These phenomena are observable in sea-surface-temperature anomaly charts.)
The “Atlantic pattern” (La Nina-like is my best term for it) may well have perturbed our hurricane season to a relatively “late or no-starter” season. Could this mean we won’t see any “Sandy” or other major hurricane events? Well, the expectation is “yes, this seems to be a good year to relax.” Let’s hope that “Persistence” holds in this case. HOWEVER, the right combination of anomalous weather patterns could throw one good storm our way still, right into November, and we all know that “perfect storms” can hit even in March!
Of course, the Caribbean holds rich moisture sources and late season storms can easily form here. We always watch our Gulf Coast in October and November, just in case. Noteworthy: as of 9/30/13 there is a “30% chance” (per “The Weather Channel” of development of a tropical system near the Yucatan of Mexico.
The Pacific La Nina seems to be funneling lots of cold water eastwards along The Equator, past Hawaii, while warmer waters (relatively-speaking) seem to be huddled off the Mexican coast, where we’ve seen lots of tropical activity. Feeds from this moisture have streamed into Mexico and into the Southwest. This moisture has created historic rains in Northern Arizona, Colorado, and elsewhere, and residents here can attest to the ferocity of the rainfall. These kinds of moisture sources could fuel heavier snowfall later in the season in the inter-Mountain West, including Arizona and New Mexico, and on-into North America.
So then, what do we expect?
Mostly, we might see a colder winter in the inner-mountain west and southwest, compared to last winter, with near-equal or higher rates of snowfall. The Northeast might well see a good heavy snowfall this winter as well. We normally would expect a continuing wet fall in the Northwest, and heavy Cascade snows as winter wears-on.
California: near normal to above normal rainfall should be the rule. Persistence is the rule: expect a similar winter to last year.
Here’s what others say, so that we might help corroborate these predictions:
The article’s title starts-out with an “Uh-oh.” I already suspected that. The key words are cold, wet, and frosty. I didn’t need to read much further.
The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center models are mostly “useless” as they don’t quite know. The term used is “equal chance” of above or near or below normal precipitation.
So then, we are left with these words of summary: this looks to be a colder winter, a snowy winter, and likely wetter in some areas.
Some trends suggest a drying-out in the extreme Pacific Northwest towards the latter part of winter. I also see suggestions of some drying-out in the extreme Southeast US after Dec-January 2014.
A probability of another “Sandy” superstorm event seems to be quite low. Let’s keep it that way!
I recommend keeping the shovels ready in the NE. You may well need the heavy duty model. (Snow blowers, anyone?)