Nor'Easter Nick's Winter Outlook: Cold & Snowy or Warm and Dry?Last Edited:
It’s that time of year again, kids! So exciting to take a peek into the future and TRY to uncover what may play out in terms of weather over the next few months. I say try because, well, as you’re well aware, weather forecasting is at times difficult and relies on many factors coming together JUST right.
My objective is always the same: To provide a non-sensationalized forecast with solid facts…and opinion based on fact. No hype. No made up words to grab your attention, no shenanigans. What I cover in this rendition of the Iliad and Odyssey is MY interpretation of what will play out and if I’m wrong, there’s no one to blame but myself.
Now, we all know that not everyone is going to be happy. Let’s face it – I don’t think I’ve ever seen everyone happy at the same time, ever. That’s ok! I believe this upcoming Winter season will try and cover all bases and allow for at least SOME happiness for all, even if it is at different times. I’m just happy that “endless Summer” is over and we have moved into a much more seasonable pattern. Last year that didn’t happen for quite a while!
I will be covering several different topics in this outlook. If you’ve got no interest in seeing WHY I believe the pattern evolves a certain way, skip alllllll the way to the bottom and you’ll find the summary in bullet points. For the very few who find this stuff interesting, thanks for sticking around, let’s get started shall we?
SEA SURFACE TEMPERATURES
One of the very first things I look at when trying to forecast seasons is the sea surface temperature anomaly chart. 70% of the Earth is covered by water. The oceans help drive our weather patterns. Why? Well simply put the oceans absorb MOST of the sun’s heat, especially at the equator. The atmosphere absorbs SOME, but not nearly as much as the ocean. Think of the ocean as a gigantic solar panel, it stores energy and heat.
The ocean helps distribute heat around the globe. When water molecules are heated, they exchange freely with the air in a process called evaporation. Ocean water is constantly evaporating, increasing the temperature and humidity of the surrounding air to form rain and storms that are then carried by trade winds, often vast distances. Nearly all rain that falls on land begins in the ocean. The tropics are very wet and rainy because heat absorption, and thus ocean evaporation, is highest in this area.
Sea surface temps help give us a hint as to what our jet steam is likely to do in certain areas. By this I mean where the troughs (dips) and ridges (lifts) set up. Looking at the map below I’ve circled several areas of interest. Let me explain:
- West of Australia – Cold water. This will inhibit convection and allow for high pressure to dominate that part of the world. That means the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) will likely crash for a good chunk of the Winter.
- Central Pacific – Warming. We’ve been talking about the idea of an El Nino coming on for this Winter. Something I DON’T want to really see because we are STILL trying to recover from the Super Nino of 2016 where Global temps came up as a result. I would like to see more cooling, but unfortunately that doesn’t look to be the case. I’m about 90% sure the El Nino develops this year. It’s different though. The last one we had was east based, this will be central based. That promotes rising air above it and troughiness.
- Gulf of Alaska – “Warm Blob”. Now, there’s some debate on how that impacts the east coast, but I see it as a factor this year especially in combination with the two points I highlighted above. This area will help intensify storms.
- Western Atlantic – Warm water. Look at all that orange! Now, there are two schools of thought on this.
- Storms coming up the coast would bring all rain to the coastal plain thanks to the crazy warmth
- Storms intensify more rapidly bringing colder air in on the back end and allowing for more snow.
I side with the second thought process. Why? We saw it last year. Remember the “Bomb Cyclone”? First off, you’ll NEVER hear me use that ridiculous term publicly, but I’m pointing it out because it was a storm that got really strong, really fast, thanks to all the warmth in the Atlantic. By the time it got to us, it was manufacturing its own cold air. We didn’t have to worry about the rain snow line. Track of these storms also obviously dictates who sees what.
I believe this is a GOOD look for a colder and snowier pattern across the eastern third of the US. Sea Surface temps are just ONE factor, let’s look at another.
Refers to abnormally warm water along the equatorial pacific. This year will be an El Nino year but the warmest water relative to average will be in the central pacific. We call this a Modoki El Nino and it’s implications are different for the US than a traditional east based El Nino.
Tele-who? Tele-what? Ok basically Teleconnections are defined by the American Meteorological Society as:
“A linkage between weather changes occurring in widely separated regions of the globe. 2. A significant positive or negative correlation in the fluctuations of a field at widely separated points. Most commonly applied to variability on monthly and longer timescales, the name refers to the fact that such correlations suggest that information is propagating between the distant points through the atmosphere.”
Essentially what we are looking for here are where areas of high pressure and low pressure set up and where our jet stream will be located as a result. These patterns can hang on for several weeks or even months and can make or break seasonal forecasts. Living in our part of the world there are a few that are KEY into determining what our pattern may end up looking like. You hear us discuss the following: North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), Pacific North American pattern (PNA), Eastern Pacific Oscillation (EPO), Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) and Arctic Oscillation (AO).
Let’s focus on what each of those do, ok? The one you probably know as the most commonly used is the NAO, which goes by another name – The Greenland Block. The NAO in its NEGATIVE phase favors a dip in the jet steam (trough) which CAN lead to colder temps and an active storm track. Here’s what the NAO looks like on a map...
Negative Phase (Most prominent I believe this Winter):
Storm Track if NAO goes into the POSITIVE phase: (note no blocking, storms are quick to exit, usually means less snow)
Storm Track if NAO goes into the NEGATIVE phase:
Notice how storms are “blocked”? That oftentimes leads to stronger, slow moving coastal storms that turn into massive Blizzards for some.
You don’t NEED a negative NAO for a Winter storm, but it certainly helps. Snow storms that occur with a positive NAO setup are quick movers and tend to drop less snow due to the progressive pattern.
The Pacific North American pattern (PNA) in its POSITIVE phase looks like this:
Ridge in the west. What goes up, must come down. When you build high pressure in the west, you typically help develop a trough in the east. I believe the PNA will be in its positive phase for a good chunk of the Winter season.
The PNA in its NEGATIVE phase looks like this:
Unimpressive for us. That brings cooler and active weather to the west coast and leaves us warmer and less active. I DON’T believe that to be the case.
Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is a fun one. You hear me talk about it from time to time, especially in the Winter. This is another oscillation that has impacts not only here at home but on a global scale. There are 8 phases. It all how to do with convection and the easterly movement of thunderstorms along the equator. Different phases lend to different conditions. The same can be said for the time of the year. During the Winter season we like to see the MJO go into phases 8, 1 and 2. They are the coldest and look like this in Dec-Feb:
I believe thanks to the rising pressure west of Australia, the MJO will hang out in the cold phases more often than not.
It’s always good to look at where the snow coverage is early in the season in places like Siberia and Canada. This gives us an early look at how cold the air is. It’s only November and the snow cover in Canada is pretty far south. This helps with the cold air masses diving south into the US. We will continue to build the snowpack in eastern Canada as the weeks go on.
I spoke on this as soon as it was released. I’ll recap and expand a little bit. First, let it be known that I have nothing but the utmost respect for the fine folks at NOAA, they work very hard and they are masters of their craft. What I am about to say is not to be taken as a jab towards them. I simply have a difference in opinion. I don’t agree with how they forecast. Why? Well let’s take a look at their DEC-FEB outlook. See the orange? It’s exactly where I would put it, so I agree with that, but they’re labeling it between 33% and 60% chance above normal. That’s all fine and dandy but those aren’t commitments. I want to see real numbers.
See the “EC”? that stands for equal chances below or above. Huh? That’s literally like saying there is 100% chance of Winter this year. I would really like them to commit to numbers. +1, +3, -5 WHATEVER. That’s how things are done in the private sector, at least. I guess government is a little different. So the warmth in the west would indicate they believe the PNA WILL be positive which would lead to troughiness in the east, but their forecast for the east doesn’t reflect the kind of temps we’d likely see. The Mid-Atlantic and southeast is where I’d expect to see the coolest temps.
I am in general agreement with their precip forecast. I think we will see above normal precip this season, and a lot of that will likely come in the form of snow...
Alright now that some of the factors that I look at are out of the way, let’s get to my actual forecast. In case you were wondering, here’s when the average first inch of snow occurs throughout the region:
There will likely be more cold outbreaks than last year, longer lasting too. I think the coldest relative to average temps are probably from say Delmarva to South Carolina. Now, this doesn’t mean we won’t get some warm days. It’s South Jersey after all – there would be a couple solid above average weeks, especially in January when we look for a “thaw”. I think the season as a whole is COLDER than last year but it's not likely to be an extremely unbearable Winter.
I’m not going crazy cold with my forecast, rather slightly below average. Cold enough for snow when we have those coastal storms form, most definitely but I don’t believe it will be as harsh as outlined in the Farmer’s Almanac. I think the heart of Winter (Feb specifically) will be the coldest part, as per "average".
Above average. Probably 2-4” above the norm for the season. With a persistent trough and active storm track, I believe we will often times be wet.
Average First Snowfall:
The average amount of snow varies depending on your location. I usually go by Egg Harbor Township (ACY) numbers. The average there is 16”. I’m going 35% above normal this year bringing that number to around 20”. Let's go 18-22"from EHT to Hammonton out to Millville. Keep in mind it only takes one or two larger coastal events to blow that number out of the water, and I DO think there will be at least TWO bigger ticket storms. Here’s a look at my SEASON snowfall forecast:
My Snowfall Forecast:
WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
I’ve often said it’s important to take any long-range forecast with a grain of salt. We can pick out overall patterns pretty far in advance BUT it only takes ONE missed connection or overlooked variable to throw the whole thing out of whack. My biggest concern honestly is the development of something call the southeast ridge. That stinker is the bane of my existence when it comes to forecasting cooler temps. Essentially it’s an area of high pressure that sets up over the Southeast. It allows winds out of the south and southwest for us and typically diverts storms a bit too far west to bring the cold air in needed for snow production.
I'm also counting on the cold water west of Australia and warm water in the Central pacific to keep the MJO in the colder phases when it actually matters. Change that up and the whole thing could be flipped on its head.
I’m banking on the idea that the ridge remains away or at the very least far enough south to do little harm. This is an honest assessment of what's going on around us and I've got no agenda. I’ll reiterate what I said at the start of this, if this forecast does not materialize, I’ve got no one to blame except myself because I would have missed something. We will wait and see how it pans out – we’ve got until mid-March after all!
- We likely rebound a bit in November, we could get some real toasty days before cooling off in December.
-Temps will be COLDER than average this Winter
-Overall I think between 1 and 2 below
-Persistent dips in the jet stream will lead to an active storm track.
-Wetter than average
-Snowfall will be 35% above the norm.
-2 large snow events likely
-February and March will likely be rough