Sunday, October 19, 2014

Preliminary Winter Outlook 2014-15


The Winter Season always has the most interest here in the VA/NC regions. Other seasons rarely contain events that shutdown schools and disrupt daily business as much as Winter. That being said... Central VA saw massive disruption in the 2000 and 2010's caused by:
  • Hurricanes, Isabel and Irene. 
  • A Summer Derecho wreaked havoc on the power grid. 
  • Tropical Storm Gaston (Honorable Mention) damaged areas due to flooding 

Winter 2013-14 featured harsh cold across the Eastern US and the more frequent forays into below 10 low temperatures than I remember as a child in the late 70's. Elsewhere, the Great Lakes still contained ice in the areas most hard frozen in JUNE. My theme last Winter was "Go Big or Go Home" based on that expected cold and associated disruption. At the weather level, many of you will know that these terms describe what kept temperatures so cold, so long : -NP, -EPO, +PNA, -AO. Those names describe observations made in the North Pacific, NE of Hawaii, Western US, Canada. Take note that the NAO (North Atlantic) was not a major player last winter.

Keep in mind the following principles:

  • This is October:  While changes are not expected, my final prognostication in late November is subject to change.
  • Weather is a designed mechanism:  The weather as a system that was designed by God.  This means that study of that system must include an investigation into the purpose of each system. How does a layman apply this?  Include economics in the process of observing weather.
Now, What You have been Waiting For...

What do the Oceans indicate about Winter 2014-15?

Note:  Australia's version is much better than the NOAA.   For some reason the chart published by NOAA/NESDIS was changed so that neutral values (-0.5 to +0.5) are 1/2 blue and 1/2 yellow.
  1. Warm Gulf of Alaska - Based on data in modern times, this is the key to every big winter in the NC/VA region.   People like to rave about -NAO but...  -EPO/+PNA is a stronger correlation to cold,
  2. Cool North Atlantic: This feature is a key reversal that is expected to introduce a dominant negative NAO into this season's weather equation.
  3. Developing El Nino:  Pacific and Indian Ocean weather patterns and ocean temps are indicative of a weak/low moderate episode of West Based El Nino (called "Modoki").  This situation provides enough El Nino to keep the mean trough mostly in the East but not so much that rainy cool weather dominates over cold.
  4. Warm Gulf of Mexico - Feeds Nor'easters and Nor'easter wanna be 's :>)

Winter Wild Card?  - What could this mean?

There is a relationship between October snow buildup in Siberia and the dominance of the -AO cold signal.  Data has been kept close to 50 years, not much in the History of the Weather Machine, but enough to raise some questions about how vulnerable we may be to rare weather extremes,

Talk about what apocalypse could massively disrupt society seems to be on the increase.  My greatest concern is being blindsided by a Killer Winter that leads to massive suffering caused by a combination of terrible cold.  The electric grid is known to have limits.  Natural Gas distribution system was near its limits last year in some regions of the US.  The observed impact of $400-$600 electric and heating fuel bills per month on middle class and poor families here in Central NC is huge cause for concern,  Being able to set a temperature that is comfortable has health care implications as well.  Is an energy policy that prices the poor and lower Middle Class out of reasonable comfort really save the environment or society?  

Let's talk Snowcover...

These chart from the Rutgers University Global Snow Lab seem to be telling a story.

Note the spike in snowcover preceding the legendary late 1970's winters
and the long steady uptrend channel since 1991.

Notice how the lowest lows were steady in the 1960's and the 1980s but were less prominent in the 21st Century.  The 2 distinct snow droughts correlate very well with ideas about the Icecaps allegedly melting and other "Global Warming" beliefs.   A good Scientist would warn against responses to to apparent weather until the longer term is better understood.

October snowcover better correlates with Winter Outcomes.
This data stops at 2013.  I can tell you that the month started
at +4 on the scale

Pay attention once again to the prominent snow drought period followed by a ramp-up that could partly explain the eventful winters of the early 2000's in our region,  Keep in mind that October 2014 is likely to be a very positive result.

My big question:  Did the huge circa 1976 spike in snow cover contribute to the legendary winters of 1976-79?

Bigger Question:  Since 2009 Severe Winter outcomes have evoked memories of the late 1970's and summoned historical reports from the early 1880's.   Must we consider the option that even more severe winter outcomes lie ahead if the trend continues?

Some are very excited about prospects for a cold snowy winter.  I would be excited as well ... except ... the snow data leads me to dig deeper into the potential for outcomes never experienced by the living generations.

My final outlook will be near or on Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Midsummer Night's Summer Update

I cannot believe that once again it is time for the annual midsummer update.  Our weather has certainly started differently than the seemingly endless rain and cooler temperatures observed last year.  Let's review how the summer began and discuss where we are headed.


Image Source: NOAA Earth Science Research Laboratory

Noteworthy Features:

1) Warmest temperatures relative to average are in Northern Canada and to a lesser extent, he SW US and NW Mexico.

2) Bermuda High dominate the East with warm  not outrageously hot.  Here in NC, 90's in summer are expected even though late May and early June is more prone to the 80's for highs.

3) The cool high plains is somewhat La Nina-like.

4) Warmth NE of Hawaii is supportive.of the Bermuda High that dominated our June.

Ground Moisture

Image Source: NOAA Earth Science Research Laboratory

The wettest area in an almost La Nina fashion is the Midwest and Great Plains.  Severe drought in the Western US will certainly take its toll in the form of brutal heat (even by their standards) as their long term cyclical dryness feeds back.  Not evident on the big map is the mini-drought which I fully expect to reverse over the next few weeks.

The State of "El Nino"     

Data Source: The Long Paddock


My intention when seemingly poking fun at un-El Nino-like features when Ocean features and some atmospheric features indicate that one is making a good attempt to form is not to debate whether one is getting underway.  It is important to pay attention to the rest of the Globe as well in order to appreciate God's fantastic weather machine and anticipate the effects of features that are not yet cooperating with El Nino influences.

Oceanic features clearly indicate a forming El Nino.  The atmosphere is only partially cooperative.  An atmospheric index used over the long term to diagnose the state of ENSO called the Southern Oscillation Index has mostly been negative during the past 30 days yet the big positive spike and lesser one during  past few days contributed towards the running 30 and 90 day averages ing neutral.  Therefore we should not be surprised to observe weather outcomes that are not typical of El Nino.

Medium Range Outlook

Image Source:  University of Wisconsin SSEC

1) The Mega Ridge in the Southern Hemisphere is opposite of the summers of recent past when the feature was north of the Equator.  Dominance of that system over Australia IS a El Nino feature when present over the long term.

2) Typhoon Neoguri has turned NE as it approaches Japan.  This is a reliable 6-10 day predictor of a trough in the Eastern US.

3) Tropical energy surging towards a strong storm system that is traversing the westerlies.  The location of contact is important because  of  likelihood of building a Ridge west of Hawaii that reverses the +EPO that is involved in promoting the current Bermuda High.  

Based on the 3 features my expectation is to see a reversal of the heat and a dominance of 80's and increased precipitation here in Central NC and VA. in the 1-2 week timeframe.

Long Range - Through the end of Summer

1) Hottest part of the summer is over: Broadening wavelengths and the developing El Nino shift the mean trough towards the east coast.  Expect more 80's through the last 1/2 of summer.

2) Big SE Coast Tropical Threat:  Unless El Nino forces establish a full dominance ... warm SW Atlantic Ocean and an early summer tropical landfall in the same region are 2 predictors of late season trouble.

3) Big Winter ahead? -  In general, weak to moderate El Nino's bring persistent cold and more snow than usual to Central NC and VA.  If some other predictors line up ... then Winter 2014-15 would be very memorable.  That being said... we need to observe that El Nino succeeds and does not hard reverse like 2005-06 thus destroying winter.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Summer 2014 Outlook

A New Regime?

Our regional weather dramatically shifted in summer 2013 into a mild cool pattern that rained buckets.  Fall descended into Winter by the end of October.  Around Thanksgiving was our first foray into the teens, destroying my salad garden.  December - February was a roller coaster that averaged slightly below normal yet featured epic cold that we have not seen in 20 years.  The spring that followed was the coldest in history in many locales.  I had never seen so many episodes of snow and ice in March even growing up in VA!

Think back to the summers of 2007-12 when enbelieveable heat ruled the roost.  3 of 5 Winters were non-existent as well.   The reason for warmth domination was a warm NW Atlantic that concentrated heat along the Eastern Seaboard and wrecked all but 2 of the Winters.   Incidentally, the mega winters of 2009-10 and 10-11 were owed to energy being dissipated into space in the Arctic thereby tanking the Arctic Oscilation to unheard of depths.  Unfortunately, heat flooded the mid-latitudes the following summers.

Now, the Great Lakes still have ice in it, now Meterological summer has begun and lows are in the 50 's!  The big question is, what does the rest of the summer hold?  Are we truly in a new weather pattern or will the ways of the late 2000's return?  How about Hurricanes?  Except for Irene, NC has enjoyed a respite.

Summer points to ponder.

To El Nino or La Nada ?

El Nino has certainly gotten in the news. Some in the scientific community along with the media ran a hype machine that touted the expectant El Nino as becoming a El Toro.   However, the ELEPHANT in the room seems to be an empty hope for 1997-98 like warming instead of a truly scientific search for what is really going on.

The ocean temperatures seem to clearly indicate an attempt to generate an El Nino as all 4 zones have gone warm.  Take note of the dual feed of warmer than average water aimed at the Central Pacific while cold is squeezing the warmth in the east.  That alignment makes Winter's crystal ball turn white...

Image from Plymouth State Weather Center.

Some might point out the warm expanse across the region must mean that a strong El Nino is coming.  Take note of the source region of the warmth in 1997 in the EAST, not Central like this one is headed. Also note the cool Gulf of Alaska that served as a harbringer of the mild winter that swept much of the country.

Image from Wikipedia

IF El Nino was going to be strong then we would also be looking at persistent negative SOI.  That measure is used as a tool to determine the trend of the atmosphere.  Will it fight the warm water and squash the oscillation  2006 style?  Or will it eventually line up to deliver its weatger effects downstream into North America.   This graph uses data from The Long Paddock to illustrate what has occurred since Jan 1. 

Persistent negatives indicate an El Nino.  Note the descent that reversed in April, hit a quick low in May and now back in positive territory.  The sloshing back and forth is indicative of a Central and West Pacific based El Nino.  This final piece of evidence is very important.

Summer Weather Pattern and Temperatures

Ocean temperature and existing drought are often great predictors in our region of how the summer will play out.  Phenomena like El Nino and La Nina are capable of ruling the roost when strong and persistent enough but both are more influential in the winter when weaker.

Amazon - Shop. Connect. Enjoy. All from Earth's Biggest Selection.

The back and forth of weather virtually guarantees somebody is going to be hot/dry, another cool/wet, and often a mild region.   This drought map sends a loud and clear message about who will stay hot and dry, the Western US.  Due to ridging out West and over TX, it leaves us east of the Mississippi in the trough zone (on average).

The message of the Ocean has a sinister side to it.  A cooling North Atlantic does not promote large numbers of hurricanes nor persistent Bermuda Highs.  Sound good?  YEAH!!!  BTW:  I think that we in NC and VA are in the mild zone.  That being written ... warm water close to the East Coast loves hurricanes. This image is provided by the Plymouth State Weather Center.

An El Nino usually squashes Hurricane Season.  As previously discussed and ilustrated, this event is NOT strong and being west based tends to sway back and forth in terms of influence.  In my opinion, the door will be open for Hurricane development that would otherwise not be there in 1997-98 East based El Nino's.   An argument can be made any year for NC vulnerability.  The warmth close to the coast is double jeopardy  due to risk of Hurricane Fran-like strengthening upon approach to land. 

Brass Tax

1) Central NC and VA will be cooler than average by 1-2 degrees.

2) The back and forth nature of the growing west based El Nino should yield a period of upper 90's that would likely be provided by a cool High that overstayed its welcome.

3) Historically, coastal warm water brings bad news. In addition, TX ridging and a cool Gulf of Mexico lead me towards favoring the activity that is near or hits land to shift to the Eastern Seaboard.

4) I am having a hard time seeing next winter because the Crystal Ball keeps getting covered in frost and white inside. ..

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Winter 2013-14 Roundup

In all the Winters I can remember, this one was unique in that it never seemed to end. Also notable was the extreme cold that froze part of Niagra Falls and nearly all of the Great Lakes.  Here in Central VA and NC, the season seemed to have something for everyone but unlike the classic Winters failed to end at the usual time.

The Official Winter Forecast specified the following characteristics:

1) Harsh Cold but temperature deviation from Winter only finishing between -1 and -2:  I knew that the season was going to be bad when Thanksgiving week lows in the teens destroyed my winter salad garden.  However the short periods of extreme warmth led to an overall Dec-Feb anomaly near -1.  It does not seem fair that the overall season "looks" near normal despite the suffering.  This is clearly a case of the "Devil being in the details".  

2) School Disruption totaling 7-10 delays, early dismissals, and closings:   My bold forecast was not bold enough.   I lost count after 10.

3) Classic "Heart of Winter" Season ends near Valentine's Day:  This season chose not to end in the fashion of legendary late 1970's winters.   I suspect active Siberian Volcanoes and the rumblings of  the pending El Niño combined to extend the season.  March was terribly cold and featured multiple rounds of snow and ice in VA and NC.  March cold was downright historic!   

4) Ice would be the bigger story in NC than Snow:  This prognostication was due to the warm North Atlantic surface temperatures that simply do not favor storm types and tracks that are big snow makers in Central NC and VA.   By March, the rise of the Subtropical Jet and effect of horrible cold  in the 50-60E, 40-50N region had reversed the situation.   It appears very likely that the next Winter will be much different in terms of regional snowfall than this one (HINT HINT).  Sleet and Freezing rain were definitely the dominant winter precip this year.  Despite that fact, RDU reported about 7" of snow which is near the long term average.

Now that this winter has passed, I am already been asked about 2014-15.  See my answer below:

IF El Niño plays out the way that I believe, then we can expect a Winter known for persistent cold but far less severity than this year due to the lowest temperatures being 15-20 rather than -5 to single digits!   SNOW will be a much deeper player next year, particularly in VA.   

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Spring Weather dominates through Wednesday

Enjoy the sunny 65-75 degree days through Wednesday evening.  At that time a cold front trailing an intense storm will traverse the area bring rain and area east of RT 1, thunderstorms.   A brief but sharp cold shot follows.  Once again, normal highs for January will appear in March.

Some good news, it is my opinion that Thursday cold recovers more quickly than forecast, thus 60-65 on Friday and a warm weekend follows.

Coming soon, Spring and Preliminary Summer Outlook.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Winter is getting set to Explode in the Eastern US

It is difficult to maintain objective focus when so many signals are indicating that a brutal cold and stormy period will hit the Eastern US beginning late next week.   Further stoking my hype machine is the recent spike in Southern Oscillation Index to +50 indicating a major amplification of the Jet Stream affecting our time zone Jan 29-Feb 1.

Here is a image from the University of Wisconsin SSEC showing some of the factors that have inspired me to warn about the coming of a prolonged cold and stormy period. Keep in mind that the daily SOI reading does not mean anything by itself and does not create weather!   Combined with other signals the value is used as a tool to indicate that an amplification (spike positive) or a pattern progression (spike negative) is coming. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Winter Outlook 2013-14

It is time again to ry to figure out how the upcoming winter is likely to unfold,  Those of you who follow me on Facebook or in person have a good idea of what is coming in the subsequent paragraphs.  Despite not having the best track record in the 2000's (about 50%) my confidence level is pretty high for the upcoming season despite a significant number of outlooks that are much different,

One hard lesson that  have learned in the 2000's (and look forward to improved accuracy as we progress through the 2010's) is how easy it is to twist logic into a cold winter.  I can tell you that there is one decent argument for a warmer, drier season that may not play out as many web outlooks seem to express.   I have identified a common feature of the most exciting Central NC/VA winters that is present right now and am choosing to go with it as the variable that will rule the heart of winter.

Analyzing Sea Surface Temperatures for clues about the upcoming weather pattern is where we begin.  The below map is courtesy of the Plymouth State University Weather Center:
1) Gulf of Alaska Warm Pool: This feature was missing last winter and seems to be a very relable indicator that more opportunities for snow or ice will affect the SE and Mid-Atlantic at the best possible time in the heart of winter.  The resultant trough position NE of Hawaii is known as the -EPO. It correlates very well with Eastern US Cold.

2) Slighty Warm W Tropical Pacific: Paired with cold water near N Austrailia, this yields a neutral-warm Nino 3.4 Zone which if holds through the winter will be a source of energy for the jet stream (but not too much ).   The cold air encourages higher surface pressure, and in my opinion leads to bouts of negative Southern Oscillation Index that provides pulses of energy that will provide the needed split flow that leads to the big eastern US storms when the branches phase,

?) Atlantic Ocean - The North Atlantic warmth is called the +AMO.  When that feature is strong, it is a winter killer.   Normally, one prefers subtropical ocean warmth and a bigger cold pool in the North Atlantic,  IF the area that is circled is truly warming then that signals a 2009-10 style next drainage of cold air aimed SE.   Those who are ignoring the Pacific in favor of the Atlantic are most likely keying on N Atlantic warmth and the unfavorable stratospheric winds for early WInter -NAO.    My conclusion is that early and mid-December is going to be warmer than average.   When the upper level winds begin to shift near Christmas <GULP!> there is likely to be a big change in the weather.

Other Factors

1) Solar Activity: Even though he current solar cycle is at the maximum, somebody needs to inform the sun!  Low solar activity mostly correlates with colder winters and more high latitude blocking.

2) Golden Sunsets: My personal indicator that Volcanoes have been busy.  Greater particulate matter in the high latitude stratosphere is another correlation to a colder winter.  

3) Siberian/Canadian Snowpack: The rapid expanse of Siberian snow in October is an indicator that the cold air supply will be loaded up for journeys over the pole and into North America.

The Outlook

Refer to the below map:

1) Rest of November:  Winter patterns like the one that I expect often feature a measurable snow or ice between now and early December.  We saw snow this week but there seems to be a better opportunity between the 24th and early December.

2) December:  Winter seemingly ends early and there could be a downright balmy period.  Around Christmas <GULP!> expect a reversal!

3) January: Could the warm Atlantic be really signalling that this is a big ice year for Central NC/VA?   Expect frequent bouts of cold, harsh at times, with ample opportunity for storm systems to take advantage.

4) February:  A good reason to celebrate Valentine's Day?  The end of "The Heart of Winter" means the end of winter.

Temperatures: The winter will likely be remembered as being colder than its average,   I think that the warm 3 weeks in December and last 1-2 week of February will probaly balance the heart of winter to make the total within 1-2 degrees of average,

Precipitation:  Totals close to average,  We could easily have a winter that damaging ice is the big story.  If that happens, snowfall totals will be low even though the frozen precip will be high.   It depends on how much warm influence the Atlantic can extert inland.

My overall expectation is for a disruptive winter that costs  7-10 snow days (incl. late arrival or early release).   I remember a season like this one that shut down my Church for a MONTH due to a frozen, unplowable parking lot!   The once-in-a-lifetime 20" snowstorm occured in 2001 (it snowed 2-3" the  previous November!).   In the first week of Dec 2003 there was a devastating ice storm, after a long break in the action Jan and Feburary were action-packed including 12" in 2 storms to fnish the season (Johnston and Harnett got their 15-20" snow that year). 

Am I being a bit too bold?   Perhaps ... but I like the setup for big events this winter...