Winter forecasts a joke or truth?

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By Daniel Bittner on October 6, 2012, 9:38am

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Now that the leaves are changing and the days are shorter people start to look ahead to what the winter season may hold.

We all admit that we all are interested when a winter forecast comes out and can’t stop to take a peak.

Ever wonder why people try to give seasonal forecasts? My best guess is because we live in a age and a day where information is at our fingertips people want to know everything before it happens. After all, why does someone check the weather? We want to know how the weather will affect us and be prepared for it. The truth is, it’s hard enough to forecast the weather five days in advance better yet 90 days.

This article will show 2011-2012 (That’s last year folks) winter predictions done by large forecasting companies like TWC, Accuweather, and others.

This information is not to critique forecasts or companies who put them out but, to show that seasonal forecasting is hard and rarely is credible.

Here is Accuweather’s 2011-2012’s winter forecast,

“The Long-Range Forecasting Team is predicting another brutally cold and snowy winter for a large part of the country, thanks in large part to La Niña... yet again.

La Niña, a phenomenon that occurs when sea surface temperatures across the equatorial central and eastern Pacific are below normal, is what made last year's winter so awful for the Midwest and Northeast. Monster blizzards virtually shut down the cities of New York and Chicago. Last winter was one of New York City's snowiest on record.

La Niñas often produce a volatile weather pattern for the Midwest and Northeast during winter due to the influence they have on the jet stream. The graphic below shows the position the jet stream typically takes over the U.S. during La Niña.

 The way the jet stream is expected to be positioned during this winter's La Niña will tend to drive storms through the Midwest and Great Lakes. Last year, the jet stream steered storms farther east along the Northeast coast, hammering the Interstate 95 corridor.

Therefore, instead of New York City enduring the worst of winter this year, it will likely be Chicago.

"The brunt of the winter season, especially when dealing with cold, will be over the North Central U.S.," stated Paul Pastelok, expert long-range meteorologist and leader of the Long-Range Forecasting Team.

Chicago, which endured a monster blizzard last winter, could be one of the hardest-hit cities in terms of both snow and cold in the winter ahead. Long-Range Meteorologist Josh Nagelberg even went so far as to say, "People in Chicago are going to want to move after this winter."

And TWC 2011-2012 winter forecast,

“Andover, MA , Sept 20, 2011 - The Weather Channel, based on a forecast powered by WSI (Weather Services International), expects the upcoming fall period (October-December) to average cooler than normal in all of the northern and eastern US, with above-normal temperatures confined to the southwestern US.

Flemming added, "In December, much-colder-than-normal temperatures across the northern tier of the U.S. will result in much higher heating demand for gas. Typically, early-season cold weather indications are bullish for gas prices, as a long-term cold stretch starting in December could significantly reduce gas inventories. Power prices in the Northeast markets will be supported by colder weather, but warmer-than-normal temperatures in Texas and Florida will moderate power prices in those markets."

The Weather Channel and WSI will issue their next seasonal outlook, including the first official forecast for winter (December-February) on October 25. WSI provides customized weather information to energy traders.”

And the Old Farmer’s Almanac 2011-2012 winter forecast,

“For the winter of 2011–12, the Farmers’ Almanac is forecasting “clime and punishment,” a season of unusually cold and stormy weather. For some parts of the country, that means a frigid climate; while for others, it will mean lots of rain and snow.

The upcoming winter looks to be cold to very cold for the Northern Plains, parts of the Northern Rockies, and the western Great Lakes. In contrast, above-normal temperatures are expected across most of the southern and eastern U.S. Near-normal temperatures are expected in the Midwest and Far West, and in southern

A very active storm track will bring much heavier-than-normal precipitation from the Southern Plains through Tennessee into Ohio, the Great Lakes, and the Northeast. Because of above normal temperatures, much of the precipitation will likely be rain or mixed precipitation, although, during February, some potent East Coast storms could leave heavy snow, albeit of a wet and slushy consistency.”

And now the real facts:

This was issued by the NOAA,

“New data released last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed that the 2011-2012 winter season was the fourth warmest ever recorded in the United States.

The data were published in NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center State of the Climate report, which provides regularly updated climate and weather information for regions across the United States.

The data show that this past winter was generally both warmer than average and drier than average for the lower 48 States. The average temperature across these states for December through February was 36.8 degrees F, nearly 4 degrees higher than the long-term average for U.S. winters from 1901 – 2000. Precipitation was down 12 percent on average, and when it came to snow, the United States experienced its third smallest winter snow-cover footprint—square miles of snow-cover, as measured by satellites—since recording began 46 years ago.

More than half of the United States experienced winters that ranked in their top 10 warmest winters ever recorded.”

Conclusion: Well this was only one winter but, you get the point it is hard to give a reliable forecast for 90 days.

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Daniel Bittner

Town: Madison, CT  

Reporting for WXedge since March 2012.

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