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Plenty of Uncertainty with What Winter Will Bring

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The newest outlook by the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) is out about what lies ahead for the next few months.  They predict our area to have better then average chances at a colder then average winter with equal chances of both above and below normal precipitation.  This is a pretty vague outlook and the CPC admits that there is more uncertainty than normal with their winter outlook.  Here is a look at their forecast and the reasoning behind it all.

“Back in late summer, it seemed as though El Niño would become a factor in helping to shape U.S. weather and climate conditions this winter. When NOAA announced the Winter Outlook in October, El Niño still seemed possible. But the appearance of an El Niño this winter now seems unlikely, according to the updated Winter Climate Outlook issued by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center on November 15.

The lack of an El Niño or a La Niña event heading into winter usually means less predictable U.S. winter climate conditions and is one reason why the areas for well-above- or well-below-average temperature or precipitation this winter in the updated outlook are smaller than what was issued back in October.

Still, much of the western and southern central United States could be in for a warmer-than-average winter this year, while the upper Midwest and Florida peninsula could experience colder-than-average temperatures. In terms of precipitation this winter, most of California and western Nevada could experience well-below-normal conditions while parts of the southeast could receive well-above-normal precipitation. Much of Alaska’s southern coast could experience colder and drier-than-normal conditions this winter while temperatures along the state’s northern coast could be well above normal.

Red and blue areas in the top map above show the percent chances that temperatures will be in the upper or lower third of average winter conditions observed in those regions during the period from 1981-2010, respectively. The second map shows the percent chances that precipitation will be in the upper third of the observed range of winter precipitation from 1981-2010 (green) or in the lower third of the observed range (brown). No shading over an area means there are equal chances for any given temperature or precipitation conditions this winter.

This outlook is potentially bad news for many residents of the Great Plains, Midwestern and Southern Central regions of the United States, which have been in the grip of a prolonged and severe drought. However, there could be some drought relief in store for watersheds in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, where wetter-than-normal conditions are favored this winter.”

Outlook data provide by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. Maps by Hunter Allen, NOAA’s Climate Program Office. Reviewed by Mike Halpert, NOAA Climate Prediction Center. Caption by David Herring, NOAA Climate Program Office.

With so much uncertainty with what’s ahead, I think it’s a pretty bold move to predict anything other then dry and mild conditions because it’s been that way for quite some time.  The atmosphere goes through patterns of all different shapes and sizes.  These patterns can take days, months, or even years to change for one reason or another.  Considering that much of the U.S. has been in a dry and warm pattern for almost a year now, its going to take something drastic for that to change.  Granted, the winter is typically dry to begin with because our main moisture source, the Gulf of Mexico, is now downstream of the country rather then upstream, thanks to northerly flow. Its these reasons that I think much of the Midwest will continue to experience warmer then normal and dryer then normal weather.  However, winter is a tough one to predict because there are so many factors at work.  And because it’s historically dry, so all it takes is one or two big storms to tip the scales into a wetter then normal winter, much like we saw with the Christmas blizzard just 3 winters ago.

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