New winter forecast: El Nino still in charge, but hope for next winter?

Photo: Marcus Klotz

"Hmmm. it's the third Thursday of the month -- the day the new 30- and 90-day forecasts come out. Bet they still paint a rather bleak picture for snowy mountains this winter. I wonder if Scott has posted an updated emergency cute kitten therapy video yet in his blog?"

Why yes they do, and yes I have:

Oh sure, there might have been some hope the maps were wrong when September broke our 18-month streak of above normal monthly temperatures. But October has gone right back into the red -- as in, the hot side of the ledger because as of mid-month, Seattle is averaging about 4 degrees above normal -- a pretty hefty number and we have some fairly warm days toward the end of this week.

And has been the case for just about all of these previous updates, the relatively mild weather as a whole isn't going anywhere soon. Here is the map for November itself, and then the 3-month forecast for November through January:

To recap in case you're new to the blog (in which case, you're probably puzzled why it begins with prancing kittens), here's a recap on how to read these maps:

On the temperature maps: The darker the red, the higher the confidence of above average temperatures (defined as about +0.5 to +0.8 degrees F above normal, depending on the season -- lower threshold in summer; higher in the winter). The shade of red isn't a forecast of intensity, but a degree of confidence. Same for the rainfall map: Brown= confident drier than normal; green = wetter than normal.

The shades of confidence are related to the local average temperatures. So when you see a big blue shade over San Antonio and a big red shade over Seattle, it doesn't mean San Antonio will be colder than Seattle this winter, just that it's likely to be colder in regard to their typical winter whereas here it will be warmer than a typical winter. (Need more? here is a more detailed explanation from last month's long range update.)

And yes, that's a very El Niño-esque map: Wet in the south; dry and warm in the north. In fact, climate forecasters wrote this nice long, technical discussion on their thoughts behind the forecasts, when really they probably just told their graphic artist to "paint this map."

So warm, dry for winter. Got it. (Although just because it could be a dry winter overall, doesn't mean we won't have individual heavy rain storms, as past strong El Niños have brought.) How long does it go? Here are the super long range forecasts (get ready to scroll! You can click the map to make it larger)

Some random notes: Looks like another early Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, for your early planing purposes. There's very high confidence of another warm spring.

As for summer: at least that air conditioner you bought to survive the 51 days of 80 degrees this summer will be put to good use again. Even without El Niño by then (which doesn't affect summer much anyway) it looks like a 4th warm summer in a row. The Blob of warm Pacific Ocean waters offshore is still here, but it is weakening and shouldn't be as much of a factor as it was this year (more on blob in a bit.)

So perhaps another warmer than average summer, but cooler than this past summer.

Now, here are the rain forecasts:

Some random notes: Interesting to see a surprisingly strong signal for a wetter autumn for us in 2016-17 this far ahead. Not sure where that's coming from unless they're hedging we'll turn around and head to La Niña, which usually means wetter/cooler winter. Also, apparently Idaho's petition to Mother Nature to ensure their summer festivals are dry this year has been approved.

But in the shorter term, long range forecasters still paint a very classic strong El Niño lasting into spring. That's because it's late enough into autumn and El Niño is strong enough that it has essentially clinched its place among the echelons of our great El Niños, even if its mechanics began to fall apart. (Which they aren't. Because if they were, I might be inclined to use just regular kitten video instead of emergency kitten video.)

Climate forecasters give El Niño a 95% chance of lasting through the winter... and climate forecasters would tell you that if you threw a watermelon from an airplane, they'd only give it a 95% chance of going splat. (Because...updrafts?)

However, one climate forecaster was a little bit more confident:

"This baby is too big to fail," says Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, apparently setting up El Niño for government assistance if it falters.

Patzert says this El Niño has just as much, if not more heat content than the previous super El Niño of 1997 that currently holds the trophy for strongest El Niño since it's been tracked in the early 1950s.

"Over North America, this winter will definitely not be normal. However, the climatic events of the past decade make 'normal' difficult to define," Patzert said. Especially when you consider our last winter in the Northwest, the Cascades had approximately, oh, 38 minutes of a ski season (42 minutes at Mt. Baker).

Consensus seems to be El Niño will have us below normal for snowpack, but last winter was SO far below normal that it won't be hard to top this year. Sort of like when you get a D- on that English paper -- it's not hard to improve the grade even if you're still blowing off studying for trying to get past Level 99 on Candy Crush. But getting a C- or D+ is still not that exciting, especially if you're still stuck on Level 99 for your efforts.

The good news is there is hope for next winter -- El Niño is expected to begin to decrease as we get into the heart of winter, and by the time we get into next spring, "neutral" conditions are more likely than El Niño:

And even better news for those who want the warm stretch to give up already -- "The Blob" of warm waters off our coast is starting to fade as well. It's still there, but weaker.

Here is the map of sea surface temperature anomalies from August:

And here it is in mid-October:

Note the reds are being replaced with lighter oranges and yellows meaning less warmth.

And going forward, the super long range models suggest continued cooling in the Pacific.


So while this winter may still not be a snow lovers paradise (although just because it looks like a below-normal snow season doesn't mean we can't have a lowland snow event), there is hope for next winter.

Which is good, because my emergency kittens video arsenal is starting to get a little thin! I might have to resort to ducks!

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