A colder than average winter may be on the horizon for portions of the Southwest, Southern Plains, Southeast and East Coast, according to a December 2015-February 2016 temperature outlook released by The Weather Channel Professional Division on Friday.
Warmer-than-average temperatures are expected from the West Coast, the Northwest in particular, eastward into the Upper Midwest and interior sections of the Northeast.
The best chance for cold conditions in the East will come later in the winter.
El Niño is expected to play a large role in temperatures this winter, but strong blocking of the upper-level pattern over the north Atlantic Ocean that began this summer may also play an important role this winter.
“The strength and location or ‘flavor’ of the El Niño event suggests that a very warm 1982-83 or 1997-98 winter is quite possible,” said Dr. Todd Crawford, WSI chief meteorologist. “However, there is some risk of big blocking this winter, driven either by a premature weakening and westward shift (towards the dateline) of the El Niño impacts or by just a general tendency for stronger high-latitude blocking. While this blocking potential does add colder risks for the upcoming winter, we are still leaning towards a slightly cooler variation of the very warm 1982 and 1997 strong Niño events.”
The European computer forecast model, which Crawford notes has done well with long-lead forecasts, “shows the focus of the ridging to be from western North America north to the pole, which implies colder risks for at least part of the eastern U.S. this winter, especially late.”
At this early stage, it appears that there is a greater chance of less blocking, which would lead to a warmer winter. However, if there is a change to more western-based El Niño or the blocking tendency that started this summer persists than more blocking is likely, leading to a colder winter in the East.
The current forecast is for a slightly colder winter compared to the 1982-83 and 1997-98 strong El Nino winters.
Tom Niziol, winter weather expert for The Weather Channel, adds that “if the current forecast is driven by the odds of a strong El Nino pattern, then it would suggest that parts of the nation will see a much different winter than they have seen in the past two years, most notably California, where a wetter forecast will be welcome news to most people”.
Next Three Months
In the meantime, the warm pattern across much of the central and northeastern U.S. may continue into October. However, cold air will likely plunge into the central U.S. by late October, while the East and West coasts are expected to remain warm.
The south-central U.S., from Arizona into the southern Plains, will likely see below-average temperatures overall in October. Otherwise, the remainder of the country will see above-average conditions with the East seeing well-above average temperatures.
In November, temperatures are expected to be cooler than average from southern California into parts of the Southwest, as well as into the central and southern Plains and even portions of the Lower Mississippi Valley in November.
Otherwise, mainly warmer than average temperatures are likely with parts of the Northeast and Southeast seeing much warmer conditions than average.
There is also agreement in the climate models in focusing the area of well-above average temperatures along the East Coast in November.
A shift in the warmer-than-average temperatures is expected in December, resembling the classic strong El Niño, with well-above average temperatures stretching from the Pacific Northwest through the northern Plains and into the Great Lakes and western sections of the Northeast.
Cooler than average temperatures will likely be found from Arizona eastward through Texas and into the South, including Florida.
This cooler southern tier may partially be a reflection of generally wetter-than-average conditions in a strong El Niño. In other words, more clouds and rain leads to cooler temperatures as the southern or subtropical branch of the jet stream is typically stronger.
The climate models are in good agreement with establishing the classic El Niño winter signature of above-average temperatures in the northern tier of the U.S. and below-average temperatures in the southern tier of the U.S.
For more information regarding this year’s winter outlook, please visit the weather channel.
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