Saturday, October 25, 2014

Gulf of Alaska Waters Continue Cooling; Winter Implications Changing

As I had noted in my Long Range Discussion post last week, the Gulf of Alaska had begun a cooling trend as stormy conditions overtook the basin. Since then, waters have continued cooling to the point where much of the basin is now below normal.

The image above shows sea surface temperature anomalies over the North Pacific basin on October 1st. On that day, we saw well above normal SSTAs across the Bering Sea, with more variable conditions to the southwest. The waters east of Japan were predominantly cool, in contrast to the very warm Gulf of Alaska and waters off the coast of California, Oregon, Washington state, British Columbia, etc.

I've seen many forecasters across the Internet push for a cold winter due to the waters being very warm in the Gulf of Alaska, myself included. It's not a bad path to choose- after all, it's that same swath of warm waters last winter that allowed for such brutally cold weather to enter North America. With those waters present again leading into fall, if they stay put, it's quite plausible that we might see another cold winter for some of the same reasons as last winter.

Those warm waters are gone.

The graphic above shows sea surface temperature anomalies for the same area as the image on October 1st, but this graphic is now valid on October 22nd, just a few days ago. The changes in only a three-week period are astounding. The Bering Sea has cooled off dramatically, now predominantly below-normal instead of the nearly-3-degrees-above-normal anomalies in place on the 1st. The waters to the east of Japan are still below normal, but that swath of below-normal anomalies now extends far to the east, and has decimated the warmth in the Gulf of Alaska.

I had said that this would be a possibility with all of the storm activity in the Pacific, but many believed I was losing my mind...

So, we've lost the factor that provided such a cold winter for us last year. Now what?
The alignment of sea surface temperatures leads us to believe we are now entrenched in a positive-PDO pattern. If you look closely, you might be able to make out a semi-circle of warmth along the west coast of North America encircling the cool waters further west. This horseshoe-like alignment is a textbook example of a positive PDO, as the graphic below shows.

The phase-definition chart, my personal label to the graph that tells us which phase the PDO is in, also confirms the positive PDO orientation.

So, we've lost the big pool of warm water anomalies in the Gulf of Alaska, and as of right now, we're neck-deep in a positive PDO event.
Sounds like a real downer for cold weather fans, right?
Not exactly.

The image above shows correlations with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and surface temperatures during a December-January-February period. What this chart is saying, is whenever the PDO is positive, temperatures in the West US will be warm (due to the positive correlation), and temperatures in the East US will be cold (due to the negative correlation). Similarly, when the PDO is negative, temperatures in the West US (East US) will be cold (warm), due to the positive (negative) correlation. So long as the PDO remains positive this winter, the risk of a cold winter would still be maintained for most of the Central and all of the East US. It remains to be seen if the cold waters will keep pushing east and erase the positive PDO completely, but as of right now, this would be a beneficial development for both cold weather fans in the East US, and warm weather fans in the West US.

Interestingly enough, positive PDO winters tend to bring wetter than normal winters to the Northern Plains...