NorEasterNick's Winter Outlook 2017-18: Mild and Mediocre or Wet and Wintry?

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Well... Here we are, again. Time to talk about many peoples favorite season - Winter. Now, I must say that while Winter may not be my favorite season overall, it IS my favorite to forecast year in and year out because we live in SUCH a dynamic area. The weather we see in South Jersey from December through March is like no other region. Wild swings, big storms, rain/snow line etc. There are A LOT of factors that go into forecasting individual storms, let alone an entire season. 

The neat thing about winters in South Jersey? We can literally see anything. We've had some crazy big snowfalls over the past decade, but also a few very mild seasons where the cold and snow just didn't show up. Forecasting for the Mid-Atlantic is difficult due to our location relative to where the arctic jet sets up AND obviously the ocean. If we lived in the Midwest, the question wouldn't be "what kind of precip can we expect", it would be "How much snow do I think will fall through the season... 50", 75", 100" " etc.

I'm going to be as honest as I possibly can. That's what you know me for. I don't skew the facts to support an agenda, I call it as it is. I hope you'll appreciate the fact and understand that what I'm about to outline is purely an educated guess, a stab at what I think will occur based on data I've scoured through over the past month. 

This is a very popular time of the year for TV stations to issue Winter forecasts. I vowed to do mine earlier, I usually do, but craziness of life has prevented that from happening! You're probably jumping from one station to the next to see what the lead weather forecaster has to say about this coming Winter, aren't you? It's OK! You can admit it. There seems to be a fascination with weather these days and I completely understand. 

One thing I don't want you doing? Comparing our forecasts. Everyone who has issued their thoughts to this point is a highly trained professional with years of experience in the field. I respect them all. I may not agree with their findings, but that means absolutely nothing. We've all got the same data to look at, the interpretations of that data is what has impacted the final result of our forecast presentation. 

Something else I should go over? Things rapidly change. ONE variable could mess up everything. I will admit when I'm wrong. I didn't get into this for popularity or accolades, I got into it because I LOVE meteorology and I love using my big mouth to spread awareness. I will always tell you the truth, good, bad or indifferent. I'm not about hyping or misrepresenting the facts and that is my promise and commitment to YOU. Now, with that said, let's get started:)

POPULAR MISCONCEPTIONS:

"LOTS OF ACORNS FALLING FROM THE TREES MEANS IT WILL BE A BAD WINTER"....  I feel the need to debunk this one year in and year out. What happens to plants and trees NOW is no indication of what's going to happen in the future. It is actually a result of what's happened in the PAST. Fun to talk about but no basis in reality and certainly not something I use to forecast. Just an old wives tale! 

"IT WAS SO WARM THIS FALL, IT'S GOING TO BE A COLD / HOT WINTER".... Another one I have to get out of the way. What happens in one season has NO bearing on what will happen in the next. 

THE FACTORS: 

1. This year will be a La Nina year. Water is especially cool towards the eastern portion of the equatorial pacific region. This is really the main driving force behind our upcoming weather patterns. Last year we had a weak La Nina, but this year's is a tad different, a little stronger and positioned slightly different. Believe it or not, the positioning of the coolest water, even by a few hundred miles, can have a big impact on what we see thousands of miles away from that region.

2. Snow pack to our north. Canada is getting hammered early in the season. That's good! Snow and cold breed more snow and cold. It's as simple as that. Clearly Canada gets a lot more snow than us, but It's a good indication for snow lovers that it's piling up pretty good up there. It will help manufacture the cold air that will ultimately push down into the eastern portion of the US.

3. With a La Nina pattern, there's more ridging favored in the western portions of the US due to persistent areas of high pressure. I always say what goes up much come down. The opposite side of a ridge? A trough. That is favored more in the east in this type of setup.

4. Greater likelihood of +PNA and - NAO. STOMP THE BRAKES... WHAT? Oh, let me explain. Our weather here at home is absolutely dictated by several oscillations and patterns going on all over the globe. Literally EVERYTHING needs to come together right for a forecast to verify. Note the word oscillation. The globe is spinning and so too are these areas of high pressure and low pressure alllllll over the place. Each one influences what the others do. It's like a giant puzzle. I'm going to show you what each looks like in a moment. 

This year will NOT be an "El Nino" year... we are coming off a VERY strong one from the 2015-16 season... who could possibly forget THAT one? Record warm temperatures all over the globe. In an El Nino year, water around the equatorial pacific is very warm allowing for an overall warmer weather pattern to develop through a majority of the United States, we certainly fell victim to that!

La Nina is literally the opposite. Cooler than average water sets up along the same region and the weather pattern through the United States is cooler and much more dynamic. The polar jet is able to dip down into the east much more, promoting storminess. How far that jet dips south ultimately will determine a number of things, mainly precip and temperatures for the season as a whole. 

ATMOSPHERIC OSCILLATIONS:

Our weather here at home is DIRECTLY impacted by upper atmospheric patterns, near and far. Think of it as both a gigantic conveyor belt and a gig-saw puzzle. Believe it or not what's going on halfway across the globe and have an impact on our weather in South Jersey. We are going to go back to the word oscillation. Everything is spinning. The globe and areas of high pressure and low pressure. EVERYTHING works in tandem to bring the type of weather we see in our region. There are a couple oscillations that we look at more closely in the winter months and they are the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and Pacific North America pattern (PNA)

NAO:

This one is a biggy. Snow lovers you're very familiar with the term "Greenland Block". When the NAO goes into its NEGATIVE phase, blocking, or high pressure, sets up over Greenland, hence the name. The result of this pattern is buckling of the jet stream and a forcing of cold air into the eastern portion of the United States. Now, this pattern occurs at 18k feet upstairs but it no doubt has an impact on what we see as far as temperatures and precip. 

If you want that big snow storm, you almost NEED the NAO to go negative. Even better? When you've got something called a "negatively tilted trough". That's when the axis of the trough runs from northwest to southeast instead of the traditional northeast to southwest. What that does is TRAP any storm that develops in towards the coast and all the energy is ours to play with. Obviously track of the low ultimately determines what we see, but this would be the ideal scenario for big snow for us, we've seen it happen many times over the past 10 years. 

We are in the midst of a negative NAO now, that's why the cold is coming. These values will jump back and forth all the time, they won't be consistent. 

PNA

As explained above, the La Nina pattern also favors high pressure in the west which promotes cooler than average temperatures in the east as a result of the development of troughs. This is what the PNA looks like in its positive phase. When the PNA is positive and the NAO is negative, you're almost surely going to get something interesting in terms of storminess. 

TEMPERATURES: 

I actually believe the Winter will run above average, but not by much. It will CERTAINLY be colder than last year. My OVERALL forecast is for about a degree above the norm. We are undoubtedly going to see wild swings. There's no way around it. Cold shots will definitely come, but they will be transient more often than not. In and out. I think we get off to a wonderful start with cold air in place for December and then we probably back off a tad in Mid January before another cold and active second half Feb and March. This year's Thanksgiving to Christmas will look and feel different than last years and the year before that. If I were to throw out rough guestimates of temps?

December - 1

January + 1

February + 1

March -0

Now let me explain something real quick. Just because you're looking at a map and see orange, that doesn't mean the whole winter is going to be like that! I think one of the most misleading graphics you can look at is the NOAA "outlook". 33% chance that temperatures are above normal in the east. What? No clue what that means because one could easily take that there is a 66% chance that temperatures will NOT be above average. I like to assign tangible numbers to my forecasts. Percentages do no justice. I'm committing to 1 above overall and that's where I'm standing firm. Again, that doesn't mean the whole winter is going to be warm, just means that the temperatures OVERALL from late December to late March will be 1 degree above (by my forecast at least).

Another thing I want to explain? We don't want it really cold if you want lots of snow. The colder the air is, the less moisture there is to create storms. In my opinion, this is a GREAT setup for winter storms to form! 

PRECIPITATION:

Hands down without a single iota of doubt, it's going to be a wet season. We've got very warm water off shore and that just adds moisture to the air. In a La Nina pattern the jet stream dips down far enough to allow for a very active storm track. I'm going about 2.5" wetter than normal. That's not all snow of course because I think we will find ourselves on the east side of several storms where we end up with a cold rain... but there WILL be snow. 

The good thing for snow lovers is this battle that will ultimately set up in our region. I'm expecting warmer than average temps to our south combined with the warm ocean temps and the arctic outbreaks from the north - it all just SCREAMS active pattern. It's going to be a lot of fun to forecast this year. 

 

FIRST SNOW:

Here's a look at the TYPICAL first snowfall for different portions of the region... I like these dates for this year. Last year we waited FOREVER to see snow. This year the wait won't be so long.

SNOW FALL FORECAST: 15 % ABOVE NORMAL

Yup... I'm going above normal this year. The average at the airport in EHT is 16", I'm going closer to 18" with my forecast. These numbers are really based off of a typical La Nina year, I've just made a couple slight adjustments. We don't knock down any doors with snow this year, but we will see it.

Something different than last year? I think it snows MORE. In that I mean I think we see several small, light impacting storms. A quick couple inches here and there scattered about. This pattern is more conducive for clippers. 

The bust potential? Coastal storms. While clippers may be more favorable in this pattern, we also have to be on the lookout for nor'easters. This setup also promotes the idea that a very deep storm can develop off shore quite rapidly. EVERYTHING must come into play at just the right time, but certainly not impossible. 

With the jet stream poised to come closer to us this year, systems will work along it and can end up off shore meeting up with moisture delivered by the southern branch of the jet. The two pieces of energy "phase", or come together as one, hit the warm water off shore and BAM.

I say bust potential because that scenario could go either way. If we end up on the warmer side of things clearly our snowfall totals would be much less than areas to our north and west, however if a storm travels through the "Goldilocks" zone, we can get hammered. Only time will tell, it's virtually impossible for me to predict that at this point. 

But overall I think snow lovers will be a bit happier this year... ESPECIALLY if you're a skier and are planning on spending time at the big resorts...

SUMMARY:

1. Slightly above average temperatures (not the whole winter). Cold will come, but be short lived. Temperatures will go back and forth., It's not going to be a frigid Winter from start to finish.

2. I'm going 15% above normal with rain AND snow.

3. It will LOOK more like Winter more often than not. I think 16 days with some sort of measurable snow.

4. It will be VERY active. Several small storms expected but potential for larger storms exist. 

I had the opportunity to sit down with a South Jersey weather legend and all around good guy, Jim Eberwine. I wanted to get a feel for what he was thinking because he's been in this field for much longer than I've been alive. His expertise is always welcomed and I can honestly say I learn something from him every time we get together. 

Jim and I are pretty much on the same page, his biggest concern? Coastal flooding with big storms. He's involved in Emergency Management and explains that the worst thing that can possibly happen is to have a long duration storm that spans multiple high tides. 

Jim rates Winters by snow blowers. 1-3. He says he expects this Winter to be a 1 snow blower season! His interview will be posted shortly. 

A BIG shout out goes to my junior intern and graphic designer Allan Nosov for tremendous graphics!