(WBTV) - If you call yourself a weather junkie, you are already no doubt aware of this year's El Niño, among the strongest ever recorded.
With that forecast starting to show signs of verification, there was little surprise last week when NOAA's Climate Prediction Center issued the U.S. Winter Outlook favoring cooler and wetter weather in Southern Tier states – including the Carolinas - and above-average temperatures most likely in the West and across the Northern Tier.
"A strong El Niño is now in place and should exert a strong influence over the nation's weather this winter," said Mike Halpert, deputy director, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "While temperature and precipitation impacts associated with El Niño are favored, El Niño is not the only player. Cold-air outbreaks and snow storms will likely occur at times this winter."
Understand, that the Carolinas are likely to be wetter this winter due the position of a sub-tropical Jetstream blowing over the southern US from the tropical Pacific.
Regarding the colder than average temperature forecast, that will come more so by way of wet weather and associated cloud cover versus say a locked-in arctic influence.
However, as is the case every winter, even in strong El Nino years, major arctic outbreaks – blasts of very cold air through the eastern half of the country – are likely. And – insert disclaimer here – if one or two of these arctic plunges can "marry up" with moisture in place or arriving from the Pacific and Gulf, we could have a good snowstorm (or two).
That's the key if you are a snow lover, the cold air has to be teamed up with the moisture! One without the other won't produce snow.
Other factors that often play a role in the winter weather include the Arctic Oscillation, which influences the number of arctic air masses that penetrate into the South and nor'easters up the East Coast, and the Madden-Julian Oscillation, which can impact the number of heavy rain storms in the Pacific Northwest.
The 2015 U.S. Winter Outlook (December through February):
- Wetter-than-average conditions most likely in the Southern Tier of the United States, from central and southern California, across Texas, to Florida, and up the East Coast to southern New England. Above-average precipitation is also favored in southeastern Alaska.
- Drier-than-average conditions most likely for Hawaii, central and western Alaska, parts of the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies, and for areas near the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley.
- Above-average temperatures are favored across much of the West and the northern half of the contiguous United States. Temperatures are also favored to be above-average in Alaska and much of Hawaii. Below-average temperatures are most likely in the southern Plains and Southeast.
- The U.S. Drought Outlook shows some improvement is likely in central and southern California by the end of January, but not drought removal. Additional statewide relief is possible during February and March. Drought removal is likely across large parts of the Southwest, while improvement or removal is also likely in the southern Plains. However, drought is likely to persist in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies, with drought development likely in Hawaii, parts of the northern Plains and in the northern Great Lakes region.
"While it is good news that drought improvement is predicted for California, one season of above-average rain and snow is unlikely to remove four years of drought," said Halpert. "California would need close to twice its normal rainfall to get out of drought and that's unlikely."
As for specifics, this seasonal outlook does not project where and when snowstorms may – or may not - hit or provide total seasonal snowfall accumulations. Snow forecasts are always tricky in the South and very dependent upon the strength and track of developing winter storms, which are generally not predictable more than a week in advance.
In the end, make sure your kids do their homework, as it is more likely we'll have school versus a snow day…but there's hope!
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