Saturday, June 14, 2014

Preliminary 2014-2015 Winter Forecast

"Another Cold Winter May Be Brewing..."

Hello everyone, and thanks for tuning in to our Preliminary 2014-2015 Winter Forecast. This forecast will focus on factors that will be influencing this winter, with an analysis of analog years and long range guidance for this upcoming cold season.

The first thing we will take a good look at is the latest weekly analysis of sea surface temperatures around the world.

We'll be referring to this image quite a bit in this post, so let's get to know it. This image shows averaged sea surface temperature anomalies from June 1st to June 7th across the world. Below normal temperature anomalies are displayed in blue, while above normal anomalies can be observed in yellows and reds. We're going to begin this outlook by analyzing the band of above normal waters along the Equator in the Pacific Ocean.

The waters in the central Pacific may seem like an awfully desolate place, but for weather enthusiasts, it's one of the most (in)famous areas to look at when creating seasonal forecasts. The reason is due to a phenomenon called the El Nino-Southern Oscillation index, or ENSO for short. This ENSO phenomenon involves water temperature anomalies and enhanced or suppressed convection along the Equator, which then leads to climate-altering weather patterns for a prolonged period of time. We have recently emerged from a period when this ENSO phenomenon was at its weakest, as there was little or no designated positive or negative water temperature anomaly in the Central and East Pacific. However, in recent months, the waters along the Equator have begun warming, a sign that things are changing.

This warming of the Equatorial waters is one of two phases of the ENSO phenomenon, this one called the El Nino or warm phase. The El NiƱo is officially defined as water temperatures in the Central and East Pacific being at or above 0.5 degrees Celsius above normal. According to this chart, we're already there. According to many respectable meteorologists, we have been there for a while now, but the atmosphere is failing to recognize the El Nino (however, that's a different story for a different time). When this El Nino does become well defined in the atmosphere, we can be assured that it will have consequences on our winter season this year. Let's take a gander at some effects of the El Nino.


In an El Nino winter, we tend to see below average snowfall in the Midwest and Great Lakes, due to an unfavorable precipitation pattern. A wide swath of above normal snowfall is then observed in the Mid-Atlantic, and well into the Northeast. This comes as the result of an enhanced subtropical jet stream, the mechanism that allows storm systems to dip south and eventually become Nor'easters and coastal storms in general. Ski resorts out west tend to suffer in many areas, but some portions of the Rockies do fare well with above normal snowfall in a typical El Nino winter. Temperatures in an El Nino winter are opposite of what you may expect. Instead of mild winters in the South, El Ninos tend to bring chilly winters. The warmth is then displaced into the North and West US. Precipitation composites echo the snowfall composite, with wet conditions in the East, dry conditions in the Ohio Valley, and a little of both in the West US. While the ENSO phenomenon is just one factor in the huge machine we call the atmosphere, it has some real power when it comes to large-scale weather patterns, and for this reason, we need to monitor how this progresses into the summer.

Model guidance from multiple global climate models indicates the above normal water temperatures will continue to strengthen as we head into the fall months, shown as ASO (August-September-October) and SON (September-October-November). By winter, the El Nino slackens, but already-iffy climate model accuracy is greatly degraded by the end of the forecast window. The agreed consensus is that this El Nino will continue to strengthen, and is very likely to be with us for the winter of 2014-2015.

Image re-published for ease of access
Continuing on with our sea surface temperature analysis, we will now take a look at the above normal water temperatures in the northeast Pacific.

The ENSO phenomenon is a significant climate-influencer, but it is nowhere near the only factor that is able to alter long-term weather patterns. That body of above normal water temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska depicts the positive phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO. The PDO has two phases, just like the ENSO phenomenon- a warm phase, and a cold phase. During the warm phase/+PDO, above normal water temperatures are seen right against the coastline of British Columbia and Alaska, with a swath of colder than normal water temperatures in the open Northeast Pacific waters. The cold phase/-PDO is exactly the opposite. While this isn't exactly a clear-cut positive PDO regime, data from the University of Washington indicates that is what we are experiencing. 

Typically, the phases of the PDO and ENSO are opposite each other. For example, an El Nino / warm phase ENSO is typically accompanied by a warm phase / +PDO regime. Likewise, a La Nina / cold phase ENSO is commonly observed in conjunction with a cold phase / -PDO regime. In this case, though, it looks like we are seeing a warm phase PDO and warm phase ENSO situation. While not "rare", these events aren't exactly common, either. During a positive PDO, temperature trends see warm weather in the North and West, with cold weather in the South and East during the winter seasons. Basically, the positive PDO and positive ENSO phases could very well combine to create an even colder environment for the South and East, and a warmer one for the North and West this winter. Since we're still several months away, however, confidence is naturally lower than if winter were instead several weeks away.

But there's more than just correlations and stats saying that this +PDO regime may allow for another cold winter. For more, we look to last winter.

The above image shows a glimpse of mid-level height anomalies last winter, averaged out from December 2013 to February 2014. In this image, warm colors show positive height anomalies, resulting in quiet and warm weather. Similarly, cold colors indicate cold and stormy weather. If we look over at the United States, we see our friend, the polar vortex, in the position that brought us the horrendous cold in January and February. But the vortex pushing so far south wasn't a random act of God. It was greatly influenced by that strip of positive height anomalies over the Northeast Pacific at the center of the image above. And how did that body of positive height anomalies appear? That's right, it came from the warmer than normal water temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska. If you put the pieces together, the climate pattern that made the winter so cold last year may very well return again this winter. This is because the warm waters in the Northeast Pacific are still here today, and if they remain there this winter, the chances of ridging appearing in that area are high, which could lead to another very cold winter.

Image re-published for ease of access
The final sea temperature-related topic we have to discuss is the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, or AMO. The AMO, much like the indices already discussed, has two phases: a positive/warm phase, and a negative/cool phase. In the positive AMO regime, waters near Greenland are warmer than normal. This allows for high pressure to build in over Greenland and the Arctic Circle, which then can disrupt the polar vortex and send cold air down to lower latitude regions like North America. This ridging over Greenland can also alter the jet stream and persuade more coastal storms to affect the Northeast. In the negative AMO phase, temperatures near Greenland are cooler than normal, resulting in a stormier than normal pattern in the area. The polar vortex is strengthened by this, but ends up moving further south, which can also increase the potential for a cold winter in North America.

Recently, we have observed a belt of below normal sea surface temperatures developing south of Greenland, which is still visible today on the chart above. This prompted the AMO to flip from its positive phase to negative phase, something that sent meteorologists and weather enthusiasts into a frenzy. This negative AMO persisted for a handful of months before the latest May AMO update declared the AMO back in its positive phase. This flip back to the positive phase is likely attributed to the snakelike swath of positive water temperature anomalies immediately south and east of Greenland, encompassing Iceland. In case you can't already tell, the AMO is clearly in a pretty chaotic state.

Because the AMO has been erratically flipping, and isn't in any clear phase right now, it's harder to use this index in our seasonal forecast. This will be updated in our Official 2014-2015 Winter Forecast later this fall, but for now, I find it best not to look to this particular oscillation for advice on our winter right now.

Now that we've exhausted the topic of water temperatures, let's go into another out-of-this-world discussion: the Sun.

We are in an interesting time with respect to the Sun. The image above shows observed sunspot values, with a trend line superimposed, since January of 2000. You can see how we were sustained in triple-digit sunspot values for the first few years of the new decade, as Solar Cycle 23 peaked and double-peaked before plummeting down in 2005 through 2009 to begin Solar Cycle 24, which we are currently in. But things aren't as similar as our last cycle. Notice how our first peak was only around 60 sunspots, instead of 125 sunspots in 2000. Now, as we finish our double-peak of this solar cycle, the average number of sunspots will begin to dramatically fall off, just as it did in 2005-2009. However, this time, it won't recover as well. The abnormally low sunspot numbers will  likely have some sort of effect on the Earth. It may not be this year, though we could see increased chances of a chilly winter if sunspots plummet around wintertime. No, it will take a number of years before we see a string of potentially noticeably-cold winters due to this new "hibernation" of the sun. This can be elaborated on much more on another day in another post, but the thing to take away here is that we are more prone to a chilly winter with sunspots projected to drop than a warm one.

Next, let's move on to a subject that has origins dozens of miles above the surface, but has implications across the troposphere and stratosphere.

The Quasi-Biennial Oscillation (QBO) is a wind-driven oscillation located around the 30 millibar mark high up in the atmosphere (consider 1000mb is the surface, and planes fly at around 200 millibars). The QBO has two phases- a positive phase, and a negative phase. In the positive QBO phase, winds in the stratosphere are westerly, or going eastward. When one considers that low pressure in the northern Hemisphere also has westerly winds, one can match up the two and come to the conclusion that the stratospheric polar vortex, which controls much of the cold air reservoirs in the Arctic, is strengthened by this +QBO. As a result, the cold air is locked in up north, and winters in the lower latitudes (like the US) tend to see warmer winters.During negative QBO years, stratospheric winds are easterly, or going westward. These winds are going in the opposite direction as the polar vortex, which means the vortex is weakened. Cold air then has a better chance at flowing south into the lower latitudes.

The image above shows the history of the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation, with the years on the bottom legend and height in millibars on the left legend. Measures in km are on the right legend. Dark gray shadings indicate the presence of a positive QBO wind shift, while white contours and shadings show a negative QBO. If you look at the bottom of this graph, you can see how we are now beginning to emerge from a positive QBO regime this past winter, and how we're heading for a negative QBO this winter. Although the positive QBO this past winter was supposed to allow for a warmer winter, it was that high pressure in the Northeast Pacific we discussed earlier that didn't allow it. Now, this upcoming winter, it looks like that high pressure in the Northeast might be back again, and this time, the QBO ought to be more supportive for the polar vortex to be torn apart, and could very well allow for a cold winter again this upcoming season.

One other item I want to look at is the current soil moisture anomaly across the United States over this past May. This shows us how wet (green shading) or dry (red shading) the soil in a given area is, and helps us analyze not only precipitation patterns we have observed, but precipitation patterns we will observe. Looking over this chart, we see that the Pacific Northwest was inundated with rain in the month of May, resulting in western Montana seeing over 160% of its average soil moisture. The Southwest fared much worse, seeing extreme negative soil moisture anomalies, likely due in large part to the feedback loop the drought is creating (we will discuss this later). We see this trend continuing in the Plains, and even into the Midwest, before the Great Lakes observes above normal soil moisture. The East Coast and Southeast are also in this above normal precipitation trend for the month of May.

We brought up the idea of a feedback loop in the last paragraph, and that's something I want to discuss more in-depth right now. To describe the feedback loop concept, we can use a real-life example in California. California is experiencing a severe drought right now, leading to absolutely parched soil, and thus extreme wildfires. This dry soil greatly limits the process of evapotranspiration, where moisture in the soil is evaporated into water vapor and lifted into the air to create clouds. Due to the lack of soil moisture, this evapotranspiration does not happen. Consequentially, no clouds are created, meaning the chances for rain to fall from these clouds are severely lowered. When storm systems do stray over California, the dry environment actually ends up cutting down on any helpful rain, as the storm cannot complete the evapotranspiration process, thus cutting off the whole water cycle, and crippling the storm. As a result of the weakened storm, no rain falls, and the drought worsens. This is the feedback loop. A graphical image of this feedback loop is shown below.

The Weather Centre

We can use this feedback loop concept to our advantage in long range forecasting. It is plausible to suggest that this drought continues into the winter. It's not impossible, but at this rate, it's more likely than not. Just going solely off of that soil moisture guide, one might expect a stormy winter in the Northwest, and a dry one in the Southwest. Some drier conditions may be anticipated in the Plains, while a snowy winter might be anticipated along the East Coast. We're still half a year away from winter, so these precipitation trends are bound to change. However, it can be helpful to see what hints we can take away about the long range outlook by analyzing soil moisture content.

To discuss potential analog years, below is the content from the Preliminary 2014-2015 Winter Analogs post, first published in mid-May. It is republished here, as the years are still valid.

The image above shows 500mb height anomalies across the northern hemisphere, where cool colors signify stormy and cool weather. Warm colors define the presence of warm and quiet weather. In this image, which shows 500mb height anomalies averaged out across these 9 analog winters, we see significant negative height anomalies across the western coast of North America, defining a textbook negative-Pacific North American index (PNA) pattern. In negative PNA patterns, low pressure dominates the West US, leading to warm weather in the Central and East US. We see ridging in southern Canada, spilling over into the northern United States. There is no clear blocking pattern over the Arctic Circle, meaning cold weather may be even more difficult to come by.

The temperature composite for these same analog years confirms this assumption. We see warm weather dominating the northern United States, maximized in the northern Plains. This sort of temperature pattern is typically associated with an El Nino, where we see warmer than normal weather in the Northern US, with cooler than normal weather in the South or West US.

The precipitation anomaly for these same years confirms the textbook El Nino set-up, as we see below normal precipitation affixed over the southern Ohio Valley down towards the Gulf Coast, and the Southwest US along the Gulf Coast experiencing above normal precipitation. This belt of above normal precipitation looks to be due to the abnormally active subtropical jet stream, another characteristic of an El Nino. We also see a stripe of wetter than normal conditions along the East Coast, which can be attributed to that El Nino-induced subtropical jet stream.

Let's now go over my preferred analogs, which match three of the five chosen parameters that fit the upcoming winter.

Looking at the 500mb height anomaly composite for the four years that match three of my five parameters, we see a much different story than we saw with the less-preferred analog set we just went over. We now see a well-defined blocking situation over the Arctic Circle, with strong positive height anomalies in Greenland and into Canada. This exemplifies the negative phases of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and the Arctic Oscillation (AO). The negative phases of these indexes both allow cold air to push into the United States, and the negative NAO permits the storm track to push north and threaten the East Coast with more coastal snowstorms.

The temperature composite for these four choice analog years is also a change from the other analog set. Rather than most of the United States being warmer than normal, the negative AO and NAO seem to influence temperatures to be well below normal across much of the nation, maximized in the southern Plains. We still see warmer than normal conditions in the upper Midwest, but these warm anomalies are more restricted than they were in the first analog set. Unfortunately, this could mean the second straight colder than normal winter, as I place more trust in this analog set than the one we first analyzed.

The precipitation composite for these four analog years shows a very stormy East Coast, with anomalies anywhere from 4 to 6 inches above normal, most enhanced in the Southeast. This precipitation pattern is still somewhat aligned with a typical El Nino pattern, though the dryness in the Southeast argues against this somewhat. I'm not as ready to accept this precipitation composite, considering how dominating the El Nino may be this winter, but as always, the analog set will be refined in coming months. 

The Forecast
What Can We Expect This Winter?

It's too early to make maps for this upcoming winter, but we have an abundance of hints we can use for some early forecasting. Predictions for temperature and precipitation will be given. Anomalies in confidence will be listed; if no confidence level is listed, confidence is average.

For the Pacific Northwest: A warmer than normal winter with around average precipitation is currently favored, due to the state of the Pacific Ocean and choice analog year. Snowfall is projected to be slightly above normal.

For the Southwest: A warmer than normal winter with above average precipitation is currently favored, due to expected high pressure along the West Coast and an enhanced subtropical jet stream. Snowfall is projected to be around average.

For the North Plains: A cooler than normal winter with average precipitation is currently favored, due to the expected Pacific set-up and choice analog years. Snowfall is projected to be around average.

For the South Plains: A cooler than normal winter with slightly below average precipitation is currently favored. Snowfall is projected to be slightly above average.

For the Midwest and Great Lakes: A slightly cooler than normal winter with around average precipitation is currently favored. Low confidence. Snowfall is projected to be below normal.

For the Ohio Valley: A slightly cooler than normal winter with slightly below average precipitation is currently favored. Snowfall is projected to be slightly below normal.

For the Southeast: A cooler than normal winter with wetter than normal precipitation is currently favored. Higher than normal confidence. Snowfall is projected to be above normal.

For the Mid-Atlantic: A cooler than normal winter with above average precipitation is currently favored. Snowfall is projected to be above normal.

For the Northeast: A cooler than normal winter with above average precipitation is currently favored. Snowfall is projected to be above normal.

Thank you for reading the Preliminary 2014-2015 Winter Forecast. Please bear in mind this is not a full-fledged forecast, but an overview of expected conditions with some early estimates of what may be to come this winter season. Make sure to stick with The Weather Centre as we continue to head towards the winter season. If you have any questions or comments, don't hesitate to post them in the comment box below.

**Please do not ask what your location will be like this winter. It's far too early for such questions, and such questions will not be answered!**

Don't forget to share the forecast below! 



Anonymous said...

Andrew, you're wonderful. Keep up up the great work the you do for us. If this forcast turns out to be true for the Great Lakes, after the horrible winter we had last year, you will truly be my hero!

Anonymous said...

Great forecast, and good use of analogs...only one small hiccup, you sort of conveniently left out an entire region of the US throughout most of your post...the Rocky Mountain Region..from Montana to Colorado, we can't really be lumped in with the Pacific Northwest or Southwest...last winter was a perfect example, because while precip was below normal across much of of the West coast and Great Basin areas, the NW flow pattern brought above to well above normal snowfall and precip to the 3 Rocky Mnt states, here at my home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado I observed 330 inches of snowfall, which in water equivalent came to between 30 and 35 inches according to the US Drought Monitor's precipitation analysis, althought June has been dry (typically is) moisture in the soil is still above normal for the entire Rockies region, though I have to say that we have had some unusual cold spells lately, the last one brought heavy snow to areas above 9000 feet, a little unusual for June.
Anyways, really enjoy your analysis and forecasts, just wish you would include the rest of the US more frequently in your detailed forecasts.(Rockies, Northwest, Southwest)otherwise, thank you for all that you do, and look forward to seeing what details you find next.

SnowyHeart-NYC said...

I just discovered this blog & I love it

I will be avidly following



Anonymous said...

WOW! I have been pouring over your data for several days now, and on the outset, it really does look like we could finally have a very cold & snowy winter here in the NorthWest Mountains of N.C.!!!......Gotta Love It!
With what I am seeing so far, we could double the 30+ inches of snow we had last year.....

Anonymous said...

I myself think that we are in for another cold winter in the south. looking at the signs of nature as I always do it points that way. We will see.!!!!

Elizabeth said...

Thanks again Andrew ,for a great post....looking like we will have a good winter this year in the southeast-lots of snow and cold !!! Really enjoy all of the information and graphics that i can pore over- you make all of us weather geeks smile!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for putting all of your hard work into something the regular person can understand. Living in NYC, we were walloped last year with cold and snow. I am hoping that the weather god's are semi nice to us this winter. Will be following you and your wisdom from here on in! Thanx!!

Anonymous said...

Interesting. But, please break out the Rocky Mountains and Colorado. As pointed out, we do not fit into any of the regions you mention.

Anonymous said...

WOOOHOOOO! More snow for NC!! 43 years old, but a kid at heart!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all the hard work you do in analyzing all of this for us. We can only hope that here in Maine we don't have all the ice we had last winter, that was horrific!!! Snow we can take, bring it on, but please no ice! Sorry for the folks in the South, and all the snowbirds who flock there to escape the cold up her, looks like you might have to pack your winter coats.

Anonymous said...

I am also from NC and we were noticing the leaves changing in the mountains very early this year....some as early as late July. Looking forward to what the wooly worms say as that will clinch it (just kidding, Andrew)!

Dylannolanweb said...

Thank's Andrew you are putting impressive information about the weather.I very much appreciate your valuable research.

Anonymous said...

I am interested in hearing more about the sunspot impact on weather in future years.

Will the decrease in sunspots counteract the increase in green house gasses from fossil fuels?

Could we see several years of worldwide decreasing temperatures?

Unknown said...

Hello Andrew, You mentioned that the atmosphere is failing to recognize the El Nino effect and suggest it for another post. Have you discussed this yet? If so, can you point me in the direction of where I can read about this? So fascinating!
Thank you!