Joe’s Weather Blog: My Winter Forecast 2014-15 (WED-11/26)
Over the last couple of days I’ve shared with you the forecasts of the FOX 4 Weather Team on an individual basis and as a group average and the reasoning by my colleagues about their approach to this upcoming winter. Now it’s my turn to lay out my rational or potentially my irrational thoughts about what is ahead over the next few months, through mid April when the snow season shuts down in KC (we hope).
A caveat (one of many on the way). This is NOT my specialty and I make no bones about it, whether it be now or in the past. For the long time readers of the blog, you know this all too well. I really don’t specialize in forecasting out for several months. I think the skill level is overall rather low for these endeavors and while I think I know a bad forecast from a better forecast, I really don’t have a lot of skill with this stuff.
Last year however I did have skill (or was it a blind squirrel finding a nut?). Before that though my snowfall predictions were pretty lousy for many years. If you think about it forecasting snow 24 hours away from the actual event is tough enough…now to do it over the course of a 4 month period or so…good luck to me. Then you factor in the thought that snowfall totals through our viewing area, on average, vary by about, on average 6-12″/season…and well a lot is conspiring to make this forecast NOT work out.
For those who don’t want to read this roughly 3000 word missive…go all the way to the bottom for the forecast.
The snow totals and the low temperature forecast is for KCI which is the official weather reporting station in KC and where we keep our weather stats of which there are a lot in this blog (fair warning).
So with all that written…here are some of the things I’m looking at for this upcoming winter.
1) Things Are Different This Fall Compared To Last Fall: Well duh! Let me be more specific for you. One of the bigger things that I like to look at are ocean water temperatures especially in the north Pacific and to a certain extent the northern Atlantic as well.
2014 Water Temperatures:
and 2013 water temperatures:
Now you’re saying to yourself…why is this important. Well for the earth as a whole..roughly 70% is covered in ocean while about 30% is covered in land. For the northern hemisphere where we live the percentages actually are different since there is so much more land area in the northern hemisphere (61% vs 39%).
What happens in the oceans, in terms of the temperature structure, certainly plays a huge role in determining how the weather can play out over the course of months and even years. The area that I’m most connected too is the northern Pacific Ocean. Notice in the 1st image the pool of warm water (compared to average) off the Aleutian Islands. Typically when that exists to that extent (size/warmth), there is what we call “feedback” into the atmosphere. What can, and did happen last year, was a persistent building of a “ridge” or essentially a dome of “warm” air in the atmosphere. That allowed AK to really be warm. As a matter of fact they had their 8th warmest DEC-FEB in their weather history.
How many times have I written about this “teleconnection“? When it gets warm there, it has to get cold elsewhere and typically that is in the USA…and especially last year it was in the central and eastern US and obviously right here in KC. It’s part of the ying and the yang of weather. Big “ridges” there mean big “troughs” or larger dips in the jetstream here. Those dips bring cold air in from Canada and the arctic regions…and that was certainly the case last year.
That’s a lot of cold weather.
This year, as the 1st image of the water temperatures shows…is a bit different. In some ways areas that were cold are now warm and areas that were warm are cooler. still though there is a decently large sized area of “warmth” off the AK coastline. There is also a tongue of colder water nudging in from about 40N and 140W westwards towards Asia. This may be important as well because we’ve seen this phenomena before in other years, but one year in particular that caught my eye…1976. Click on the image below to see it better. It shows the anomalies from OCT-March of 1976-77. Notice the similarities…also into the Atlantic Ocean as well.
Here’s a more close-up look into the N Pacific…notice the warm/cold regions (red/blue) in the following map and compare it to the map above…
I know it’s tough to do with the different projections but take my word for it there are a lot of similarities…also look into the Atlantic region off the coast of Greenland. Notice to cold pocket in the below map…and look again at the map from 1976-77…fascinating.
What was that winter like (76-77)? It was cold as well.
December and January were the 29th and 3rd coldest months in KC weather history. High temperatures on 23 of the 31 days in JAN of ’77 were 32° or below and we had 13 days with lows 0° or below. It should be noted that we moderated nicely in February and March but overall that winter tied for the 12th coldest in KC weather history and it should also be noted that the winter of 2013-14 (as defined by DEC-FEB) was colder than 1976-77 (8th vs 12th) but since I include March as well…the numbers are a bit different on the graphics since the graphics go from December through March.
The folks at Weather Bell LLC and other forecasters that I like to keep tabs on have mentioned this particular connection numerous times and I can see what they’re talking about. I even read a research paper about that particular winter.
There are some really interesting connections to be made, or at least attempt to be made. Take a look at a couple of samples from the paper linked above.
The authors then noted a similar water temperature distribution of anomalies in the Pacific Ocean to another brutal winter (1917-18)
Note those last two sentences…I think the same thing could happen again this coming winter…or close to it.
Also during the 1976 hurricane season there were only 8 named storms…lower than average and while I think any connection to the following winter can be a real(!) stretch for the KC area the hurricane season that ends in a couple of days also has had 8 named storms. Probably a coincidence.
Here is another one…and no this wasn’t the headline from last week. It was during the winter of 1977. Just another coincidence I think.
Oh did I mention that there was a devastating CA drought as well in 1976-77.
“Then came the 1976-1977 drought. At the end of the ‘wet’ season in 1976, rainfall levels were at 65 percent of the norm, reservoirs were depleted, and there was little to no Sierra snowpack to speak of (sound familiar?). Fears were confirmed as 1977 rolled in and marked one of the driest years on record. Forty-seven of California’s 58 counties declared a local drought emergency, making them eligible for relief money on both the state and federal level. – See more at: http://civileats.com/2014/02/05/a-history-of-drought-in-california-learning-from-the-past-looking-to-the-future/#sthash.cq6NoMuF.dpuf”
Probably just another coincidence. I will say though that I feel that CA will get better rainfall and mountain snowfall this winter as opposed to the last couple. So there is some good news in teh next few months as far as the drought goes out there.
2) El Nino: It’s there and slowly getting it’s act together. All El Ninos though are not the same…some are rather weak (seems to be this version) others like in 1997-98 are strong and their effects can absolutely overtake and dictate a winter weather pattern. (mostly goodbye snow and cold). As far as what El Nino is, it’s basically a band of relatively warm ocean water that develops from near the South American coastline westwards through the equatorial Pacific Ocean. It’s strength will vary and it’s effects, especially on a branch of the different jetstreams that can effect the weather in the USA (the sub-tropical jet especially) vary as well. Typically we notice an increase in the sub-tropical jetstream strength and this allows for more moisture transport into the US, especially the southern US. There is also an issue about where the “warmest” waters are in an El Nino. This year seems to favor something called El Nino Modiki, which is when the “warmest” waters drift more towards the central equatorial Pacific as opposed to farther east.
What happens to the temperatures in this scenario in the US?
Interesting…look kind of familiar?
So let’s look at #1 + #2 again…my forecast of colder weather this winter + a forecast of a more active sub-tropical jetstream…that should equal more snow in the Plains including the KC area.
I’m not done.
3) Snow…Snow Everywhere But In KC: Yes snow lovers, I know you got frustrated 10 days ago for what was going to be a very minor event. A little perspective, we don’t get much snow in November anyway. Most of the time we get less than 1″ of snow. Let’s not sweat that. There has been some cutting edge research that suggests that the snow cover trends in October especially can influence somehow the following winter and the tendency for a certain parameter the meteorologists watch to become favorable for colder weather. The thought by Judah Cohen is that as as the snow cover expands in Eurasia there is 6 step reaction in the atmosphere that allows something called the AO (Arctic Oscillation) to go negative. When that happens there is a tendency for cold air to come into the eastern part of the country especially. When I wrote him last year this was his reply…note that the SAI refers to the Snow Advance Index
“The accuracy of our model is very much dependent on how well the AO predicts the winter weather. The skill or accuracy of the model is better east of the Mississippi than west of the Mississippi. Still our model has positive skill in the Plains, which is a feat given how poorly seasonal forecasts generally perform.
As you noted in your blog we rely heavily on the SAI in our winter forecasts. The SAI was well below normal, which is a prediction of a
positive winter AO and warm temperatures in the Eastern US. The relationship between the SAI, the AO and surface temperatures is stronger across Northern Eurasia than the US, so I am more confident in the forecast for Eurasia than the US. There are some wild cards this winter that are difficult to assess their overall impact on this winter’s weather. There is currently strong ridging centered near Alaska that is helping to pool cold air in Western Canada. That might be an important player this winter and more likely for the Plains than the East Coast. But this information is not included in our model.
The following image is courtesy of the Rutgers Snow Lab…showing the Eurasia snowcover in October which is the key month for his research that I wrote about above…the far right hand bar is October 2014…that would be significantly above average. Oh by the way…look at a certain year…oh I don’t know…maybe around 1976 or so…hmmm. Probably just a coincidence though or is it.
This tweet just came out on Monday afternoon after I wrote up this blog with the research indicated above…wow talk about good timing!
This research is still being vetted out and is not overly certain…but it is fascinating and it seems to make sense. With that said I’m always curious to see how snowcover is doing closer to the US…because the more snow up there the colder the airmasses should get as the days get shorter and shorter and the snow thickens more and more…the following map is the current snow map of the area outlined.
That’s a lot of snow and that’s a lot of potential for colder air to build up nicely…and we’ve already seen instances of this cold air delivery into the Plains.
4) The AO and the NAO (Alphabet Soup): I don’t necessarily want to write a bunch about these indices (otherwise this turns into a 4000 word blog) that we look at often to gauge where the weather may trend over the course of 1-2 weeks into the future. During the winter though we are looking for is for both indices to trend negative…the more negative the more of a likelihood of cold air to push southwards from the arctic regions. If you want more information about the North Atlantic Oscillation and the Arctic Oscillation…click on the links provided.
What has been going on for months concerning the above indices is that they’ve had no problem dipping into the negative state…sometimes, like for the record cold outbreak last week in the US…deeply into the negative state. This is an index that can be measured daily…take a look at the AO index over the last 4 months or so…notice the frequent dips that have already happened…
Same thing for the NAO…
Your takeaway from this…when these index values are significantly negative…we should see some decent arctic shots…it’s not a for sure way of figuring out the cold outbreaks…last winter we were rather cold without a lot of help from the above indices so it shows you that there are other ways the atmosphere can chill us in the Plains area. I bring them up because they have had no problem going negative in the last 4 months and they should have no problem doing so in the next 4 months either.
5) The Jetstream Will Want To Run Home To Momma: I’ve always been a believer in this. When in doubt the jetstream tries at times to align itself where it’s been before. Here is what I mean…we’ve heard the phrase “droughts beget drought”. It’s the belief that when large ridges or domes become semi-permanent in the atmosphere that it takes a LOT for them to finally shake off their “muscle memory” and disappear. Much like we’ve seen in CA over the past couple of years…there is a persistent semi-permament ridge sitting there and it doesn’t want to leave. Sure it gets broken sometimes and goes away for a bit of time…but it always wants to come back. Another way I look at this is when I observe what the pattern has been doing lately and for that let’s go up to about 18,000 feet or so and track the flow at that level. We’ve averaged out the days from 9/1 to 11/19…click on the next image to make it larger.
Do you see that ridge near the west coast…then the corresponding dip in the flow east of the MS River Valley…that’s been the average flow since September 1st…
As we come down in the atmosphere to about 5000′ or so…notice how the above map and the flow influences the temperatures…dips in the jetstream = cooler air and rises or ridges = warmer air.
My thought process is that this is where the jetstream wants to go if it can. There will be times when the above flow at 18000′ isn’t remotely like the image (2 up) but that’s the nature of weather. My idea is that in general this is the flow/pattern that is establishing itself. It would lead to more cold air from the Plains eastwards and especially in the NE part of the country.
Here is what I’m thinking as an average pattern from December>March…
6) Do fall precip totals (rain or snow) lead into any winter snow connection? In a word…NO.
Despite the fact that we had about a 3+ week dry spell and we’re going to be dry again for awhile…there is NO correlation to being dry in OCT/NOV and then forecasting a light year for snow amounts. Maybe you don’t want to go overboard with a snow forecast…check this out.
Here are the top 15 dry OCT/NOV’s in KC going back to the late 1880s.
Now look at the winter that happened after these dry falls…
No connection. Plus we’ve had almost 10″ of rain since 10/1…granted most of that was the 1st 2 weeks of October but still that’s a lot of moisture.
So let’s put to rest that concern…I do get a handful of emails regarding this.
7) But Joe It’s Been So Cold This Fall: Well that I’ll give you (at least November) that. Since October 1st we’re #11 in coldest average temperatures and since 11/1 we’re #3 in the coldest November in KC weather history (through 11/25). Surely this means that the snow will be heavier this winter. Well maybe not. Again let’s dive into the numbers…
Top 10 coldest 10/1-11/30s with the following winter snow totals…
That’s all well and good but it’s been so cold lately…surely it means more snow during the winter…well not really. Again more numbers…
Coldest Novembers and the winter that followed (snow)
All over the place…I did this to prove that what happens in the fall (in terms of cold temperatures) does not translate into what will happen in the winter snow season. So we’ve looked at fall dry precip years and cold temperatures to try to see if there was a connection to fall temps/precip and the winter that followed (from a snow perspective at least) Obviously there is no connection. Let’s put that to rest.
Conclusions (for those who skipped to this part you’re eyes are probably NOT bleary by now):
So let’s wrap this up…my confidence in a colder than average winter is high. I’m somewhat sobered by the fact that the winter of 76-77 gave us 16″ of snow and my biggest concern is that cold air can overwhelm things and shunt the better storms (snow producing) to the south of KC more towards I-44 or even I-40. My thought process though is with the cold air hanging around and never straying too far away for a large part of the winter..all it takes is 2-3 decent storms and we’re closing on on 20″ just like that. Then we get the piddly storms and I see a way we can get to 30″+ of snow. IF the cold air dominates and squashes things I’ll be too high…and we all know I have a high snow bias in these long term type of forecasts. I do see a path where when the cold air retreats and storms come through the west coast we could see increased risks of icing in the area. Perhaps more so than the last couple of years which haven’t been too bad in that regard really.
Gosh I hate that picture of me with my head all tilted :(
There are about a bazillion other things I could’ve added to this but some of the concepts are not easy to write about (i.e. the MJO (see more alphabet soup) and other things…at some point after some 3300 words I have to stop writing.
Hope you enjoyed this blog. It’s taken hours of research and writing but as usual it was a fun experience. Maybe you learned some things about what to look for and not what to look for in the weather world…I’m sure many are scratching their heads right now and saying “what the ?!@?@”. Then again that is what the “conclusion” part of the blog was for. That’s why I suggested you go there at the beginning of this missive :) . At least I tried : ))
Love to hear your thoughts regarding the forecast(s) whether it be in this forum or on Facebook or Twitter
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