Elusive El Nino challenges NOAA's 2012 US winter outlook

October 19, 2012, NOAA Headquarters
Credit: NOAA

(Phys.org)—The western half of the continental U.S. and central and northern Alaska could be in for a warmer-than-average winter, while most of Florida might be colder-than-normal December through February, according to NOAA's annual Winter Outlook announced today from the agency's new Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in College Park, Md.

Forecasters with 's Climate Prediction Center say a wavering El Niño, expected to have developed by now, makes this year's winter outlook less certain than previous years.

"This is one of the most challenging outlooks we've produced in recent years because El Niño decided not to show up as expected," said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "In fact, it stalled out last month, leaving neutral conditions in place in the ."

When El Niño is present, warmer ocean water in the equatorial Pacific shifts the patterns of that in turn influence the strength and position of the jetstream and storms over the Pacific Ocean and United States. This climate pattern gives seasonal forecasters confidence in how the U.S. winter will unfold. An El Niño watch remains in effect because there's still a window for it to emerge.

Credit: NOAA

Other climate factors can influence across the country. Some of these factors, such as the , a prominent , are difficult to predict more than one to two weeks in advance. The NAO adds uncertainty to the winter outlook in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic portions of the country.

Areas ravaged by extreme drought over the past year are unlikely to see much relief from this winter.

In the 2012 U.S. Winter Outlook (December through February) odds favor:

  • Warmer-than- in much of Texas, northward through the Central and Northern Plains and westward across the Southwest, the Northern Rockies, and eastern Washington, Oregon and California, as well as the northern two-thirds of Alaska.
  • Cooler-than-average temperatures in Hawaii and in most of Florida, excluding the panhandle.
  • Drier-than-average conditions in Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, including Idaho, western Montana, and portions of Wyoming, Utah and most of Nevada.
  • Drier-than-average conditions in the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and northern Missouri and eastern parts of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and western Illinois.
  • Wetter-than-average conditions across the Gulf Coast states from the northern half of Florida to eastern Texas.
The rest of the country falls into the "equal chance" category, meaning these areas have an equal chance for above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures and/or precipitation.

This seasonal outlook does not project where and when snowstorms may hit or provide total seasonal snowfall accumulations. Snow forecasts are dependent upon the strength and track of winter storms, which are generally not predictable more than a week in advance. 

Explore further: Winter forecast cold north, dry south, heavy snow

Related Stories

Winter forecast cold north, dry south, heavy snow

October 20, 2011

(AP) -- Winter looks to be cold and wet across the northern tier of states, and the drought will worsen in the South, where conditions are expected to be warmer and drier than usual, government forecasters said Thursday.

Scientist Forecasts Above Average Mountain Moisture

November 4, 2005

The mountains of Colorado could be in for a wetter-than-average winter this season, according to Klaus Wolter, a CU-Boulder and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist.

Forecasters say El Nino may be developing

June 8, 2009

(AP) -- A new El Nino could be approaching. Sea-surface temperatures have been warming in the tropical Pacific Ocean, suggesting the potential for the development of the El Nino climate phenomenon this summer, according ...

NOAA: Warm winter in West, but East? Who knows

October 18, 2012

Federal meteorologists are forecasting a milder and drier winter for much of the western United States, but say they are stumped about what will happen in the East.

El Nino To Affect Weather In Colorado And Western U.S.

December 1, 2006

Colorado's late fall snowstorms could disappear by mid-December due to the influence of an El Niño event in the tropical Pacific Ocean, said Klaus Wolter, a University of Colorado at Boulder and National Oceanic and Atmospheric ...

Recommended for you

Rainfall's natural variation hides climate change signal

February 22, 2018

New research from The Australian National University (ANU) and ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science suggests natural rainfall variation is so great that it could take a human lifetime for significant climate ...

Seasonal patterns in the Amazon explained

February 22, 2018

Environmental scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have led an international collaboration to improve satellite observations of tropical forests.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.8 / 5 (10) Oct 19, 2012
Just Mother nature doing what Mother Nature does- embarrassing scientists by making hash of all their climate change and weather prediction models.
1.8 / 5 (9) Oct 19, 2012
"Some of these factors, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation, a prominent climate pattern, are difficult to predict more than one to two weeks in advance."

Yet, somehow we KNOW that we are all doomed to the future laid before us by computer models written by the same folks who cannot seem to provide valuable predictions beyond a fortnight.
3.7 / 5 (6) Oct 19, 2012
"Some of these factors, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation, a prominent climate pattern, are difficult to predict more than one to two weeks in advance."

Yet, somehow we KNOW that we are all doomed to the future laid before us by computer models written by the same folks who cannot seem to provide valuable predictions beyond a fortnight.

Well, you could approach the predictions from a position of historical data, current trends and proven physics....oh...same results. Well maybe if we keep doing what we're doing things will change for the better...like breaking your arm, so to fix it you just break it several more times.
4 / 5 (4) Oct 19, 2012
Ah for the good ole days when a science story didn't bring out climate change denier tools adding their nonsense.
4 / 5 (4) Oct 19, 2012
No matter how many times the difference between weather and climate is explained to ScooTard, he never manages to remember the difference.

"embarrassing scientists by making hash of all their climate change" - ScooTard

Willful ignorance is the hallmark of evil men.
3.8 / 5 (4) Oct 19, 2012
Very true. The state of a chaotic system is predictable in the short term (weather), but only predictable on average (climate) in the long term.

This is one of the fundamental discoveries of the last 20 years.

You must have been asleep for the last two decades.

Or maybe you have just hit your head one too many times.

Is that why you can't drive?

"Yet, somehow we KNOW that we are all doomed to the future " - CantDrive
5 / 5 (4) Oct 19, 2012

The North Atlantic **Oscillation** is, by definition, an oscillation. What is the net effect of an oscillation when averaged over long time spans?

Assuming you've had some basic calculus; integrate a plain sine wave from 0 to 1024*PI in its argument: what's the result? Does the result change if you move the upper bound to 2048*PI? In fact, is there any interval whatsoever, no matter how great, that you can choose at all, over which the net contribution of all those oscillations is either less than -1.0 or more than 1.0?

In the same way, natural variability averages out to 0 over the long term. That's why it doesn't matter for long-term climate forecasts, which are only concerned with very slow cycles (on the order of centuries and millennia in period) and long-term acyclical trends (such as the non-cyclical trend currently being driven by anthropogenic factors.)
4 / 5 (4) Oct 19, 2012

The prediction of this winter's regional climate is not the same thing as global prediction of climate over the next century, and neither of the two is anything akin to predicting local weather for tomorrow. The mathematics are different, the underlying physics are different, the relevant data sets are different; in short, these problems have very little if anything at all in common.

The difference is analogous to modelling bulk properties of large-scale materials vs. quantum properties of individual molecules and nanocrystals comprising those bulk-scale materials.

Besides, the actual forecasts that are mentioned in the above article sort of contradict your assertion that scientists don't know what's going on (if they truly didn't, they wouldn't be able to formulate those forecasts in the first place.)
Meta Darwin
not rated yet Oct 22, 2012
I think I must have been asleep for a while, too, because I thought El Nino happened only every 7 years, now it seems it's being expected every year.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.