NOAA says winter forecast is a tough one

Forecasting what the weather is going to be a few days from now is hard enough, but forecasting out for the next three months is even more of a daunting task.  This year is really a challenge according to NOAA, who just issued their winter outlook for the U.S.

“It’s quiet challenging this year with no strong climate signal” according to Mike Halpert the Deputy Director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center”.

The best guess forecast is more bad news for the precipitation starved Plains and West.   Nearly 75% of U.S. is either in drought or abnormally dry, and the forecast only calls for a better than normal chance of rain across the Gulf Coast.   Parts of the upper Midwest and much of the Pacific Northwest are expected to see less than normal precipitation.

“The drought will likely persist at least through the winter”, according to Deke Arndt who is the Chief of Climate Monitoring at NOAA’s National Climate Prediction Center.  Temperatures are forecast to remain above normal through the winter months over the Plains and Rockies, with only Florida expecting below normal temperatures.  According to Arndt, “2012 will likely end up the warmest year on record out of the 118 on record.”

So why is it a difficult forecast this year?  Forecasters were banking on phenomenon known as El Nino to develop.  Translated as “The Child” by Peruvian sailors in the late 1800s, because they would see it’s effects around Christmas time, El Nino is a warming of the water in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean that has global weather consequences.  It has likely been occurring for centuries, along with its cousin La Nina, which is a cooling of the Pacific.

A strong El Nino can mean big time rains and mudslides for California, and heavy rains for Texas and much of the Gulf Coast, and Florida.   Temperature wise it usually means a break for the usually frigid upper Plains and northern Rockies, as well as Alaska, which could really use a break after record cold and snow last winter.

Forecasters are betting the El Nino this year will be weak or non-existing,  so we will see only minor effects.  Halpert added that other tools like the computer models which are aids in forecasting” are not giving us any consistency on what to expect”.

With the mixed signals from the models and the question marks surrounding the forecasts you may better off this year flipping a coin for your forecast.   Maybe our old friend Punxsutawney Phil can shed some light when he pops his head out of the ground in early February.

NOAA Outlook for Precipitation for December, January, and February

NOAA Temperature Outlook for December, January and February

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