Winter outlook issued and...anyone got a dart board?

NOAA announced their annual national winter outlook Thursday and... while there were some pretty fancy maps attached, they might as well have issued a map for the Pacific Northwest that looked more like this.

The actual forecast maps show "Equal Chances" ("EC") for being above, average, or below normal temperatures, and also "equal chances" for being above, average or below normal rainfall across the Pacific Northwest from December through February.

In other words, my 6-year-old daughter can come up with a forecast for January (for the record, she wants snow) and it has just as much chance of happening as shaking a Mighty 8 Ball (just if it says "reply hazy" that doesn't mean it will actually be a hazy winter.)

So at this point, I'm sure you're wondering: "What kind of blog is this, Scott? It's a winter outlook blog that says we don't know what the winter outlook is?" but there is a point to this ambiguity.

Typically, forecasts don't get specific until they're 7-10 days out anyway (unless you're AccuWeather and you're putting out 45-day forecasts. By the way: Rainy and 43 on Christmas in Seattle, apparently.)

These seasonal forecasts are more intended to give a "weight of the dice" approach to leaning cold/warm or wet/dry. Most years we have an El Nino or La Nina that helps shape these long range forecasts but this year, the tropical Pacific waters are right about where they should be -- a "neutral winter" and neutral winters don't have any consistent long-term trends on national winters, so it's hard to get a long-range read.

Here is now NOAA explained it in releasing their forecast:

"It's a challenge to produce a long-term winter forecast without the climate pattern of an El Niño or a La Niña in place out in the Pacific because those climate patterns often strongly influence winter temperature and precipitation here in the United States," said Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "Without this strong seasonal influence, winter weather is often affected by short-term climate patterns, such as the Arctic Oscillation, that are not predictable beyond a week or two. So it's important to pay attention to your local daily weather forecast throughout the winter."

In other words, we still have day jobs this winter putting out the 7 day forecast and the days beyond will just have to remain cloaked in suspense. (Or subject to Magic 8 Ball machinations...)