Why Snowbirds Should Go West This Winter

Earlier this year, weather forecasts suggested an early formation of El Niño would result in a slightly warmer and wetter weather for the United States.

U.S. winter outlook (Source: NOAA)

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center there’s a catch this year; the fickle El Niño has not formed as expected.

El Nino is the Pacific weather system that indicates warmer ocean water in the equatorial Pacific, and that influences the jet stream and gives forecasters confidence in their work.

This prognostication provides snowbirds looking for the warmest and driest roost some direction.

Go West, Snowbirds, Go West

The western half of the Lower 48 is forecast to have a warmer-than-average winter.

Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center, said in a statement that El Nino development “abruptly halted” last month.

“This is one of the most challenging outlooks we’ve produced in recent years because El Nino decided not to show up as expected.”

According to Halpert, it stalled out last month, leaving neutral conditions in place in the

U.S. winter outlook (Source: NOAA)

tropical Pacific.

NOAA still sees signs a weak El Nino will develop and its outlook, released last week is based on that tentative assumption.

The winter outlook suggests warmer-than-average temperatures in much of Texas; the Central and Northern Plains; the Southwest; the Northern Rockies; eastern Washington, Oregon, and California; and the northern two-thirds of Alaska, the center said.

Hawaii, however, is expected to have cooler temperatures.

The outlook also suggests drier-than-average conditions in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, northern California, Idaho, western Montana, most of Nevada and portions of Wyoming and Utah, the center said.

It will also be drier in the upper Midwest (including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and northern Missouri); eastern parts of North and South Dakota; Nebraska; Kansas; and western Illinois, the center said.

This winter should be wetter than average across the Gulf Coast region from the northern half of Florida to eastern Texas, the center said.

It’s a crap shoot for the rest of the country. They are given an “equal chance” for one of three winters: above, near, or below normal, the center said. The center’s outlook doesn’t predict snowstorms, however.

Halpert stated that if El Nino suddenly strengthened, below average temperatures and above average precipitation might cover a larger region of the South, whereas dry conditions might expand beyond the north central U.S. towards the Ohio Valley.

Halpert stressed the difficulty in developing this year’s outlook, both due to the elusive El Nino, and broader challenges in seasonal forecasting.

“The science behind seasonal prediction is in its infancy,” Halpert said, noting such outlooks are about 20-30 percent better than a random guess, and even less than that when the El Nino signal (or conversely, its opposite phase, La Nina) is weak.

This is the first time in 60 years of records El Nino has displayed this kind of erratic behavior, according to Halpert, so the past provides few clues about what the future may bring.

Halpert acknowledged El Nino is not the only player in developing seasonal outlooks.

The Arctic Oscillation, one of the other key predictors of winter conditions, can not be forecast more than two weeks or so in advance.

During 2009-10 the Arctic Oscillation was sharply negative, resulting in cold, stormy conditions over the Eastern U.S.

Last winter, it was largely positive, resulting in the opposite conditions. It remains a big wildcard heading into this winter.

Worth Pondering…

Whether the weather be fine,
Whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold,
Whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather,
Whatever the whether,
Whether we like it or not
—Anon

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