Saturday, November 29, 2014

Winter 2014-15 Outlook: No Guts No Glory


Part of posting a forecast publicly is the combination of wanting to be right (even though details are general) and the fanfare that comes with it.  Let's be real...  No one wants to be wrong or experience the shame of apologizing to the audience.

The theme of this winter is "No Guts, No Glory" because my expectations are high based on the evidence.  I believe that concern is warranted.  Our region is surprisingly vulnerable to being shutdown and grocery stores being wiped out.  The fact is that the gaps between severe winter events are far enough apart that authorities seem to not be interested in improving winter storm recovery procedures.
This forecast is not intended to be overly technical.  You will get more facts and technicality than provided by the local media and learn a few things about the weather.  The objective is to inform and educate.

Now... On with the program...

Are the Stars Aligned?

Not since the legendary winters of the late 70's have so many reasons supporting an exceptional season been in place.  The basics of a colder, eventful winter are:
  • Blocking: High Pressure dominating the Arctic. Systems over the Pole and near Greenland shunt colder air and the dominant storm track further south.
  • Tropical Forcing: Some episodes of storminess near the International Dateline is needed to connect with Polar Westerlies to transport heat towards the Pole and send the cold south.
  • Siberia/N. Hemisphere Snow Advance:  Above average buildup of snow across Siberia and the High latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere during October is well correlated with colder winters.
Note:  I did not list "El Nino" on purpose.  Weak/Moderate episodes based around the International Dateline help but are not officially required.  A non-Nino year can still contain the needed connection from the West Pacifc Tropics and the jet stream.

All 3 requirements are lined up to deliver a minimum of a colder, stormer Winter.  We also have the right type of El Niño as an added bonus.

What the Oceans tell us about the upcoming Winter.

I have seen very few of these perfect Maps in my weather lifetime:
Ocean Surface Temp Anomalies

Source: Plymouth Weather Center   
  1. Gulf of Alaska and East Pacific Warming:  This feature supports a Jet Stream alignment that maintains a ridge in the West and trough in the East.
  2. North Atlantic Cool Pool: An important difference from last winter.  The cool pool supports a Greenland High Pressure system also known as. -NAO.  Should this feature dominate as expected, extended periods of cold and snow/ice episodes will plague the Eastern Seaboard.
  3. El Niño:  The warm area is migrating towards the Central Pacific.  This feature is its weak/moderate state should add opportunities for Winter Storms.
Northern Hemisphere October Snowcover

The timing and area coverage of snow in October affect winter outcomes by coating vast areas with a layer of snow that would otherwise still be absorbing heat from the sun.  An extensive snowcover reflects heat back into space.  The resultant cooling distorts the Polar Vortex leading to downstream intrusions of cold that are already impacting us. Rutgers University Snow Lab statistics indicate historic snow advance: ( Data Collection began in 1966).
  1. Eurasia:  Sept and Oct were ranked 8 and 2! 
  2. North America: 1 and 8.
  3. Northern Hemisphere: 3 Both Months.
The build-up is snow is important due to its strong correlation to Central and Eastern US Cold:

Winter Correlation between Northern Hem. Snow coverage and Winter temperatures

What you need to Know.

I expect this Winter to rival the legendary winters of the late 1970's in terms of cold, storms, and overall disruption.  These are my lofty expectations:

  • Prolonged Cold: Temperatures 3-5+ degrees below normal. Expect the trend towards higher electric/gas bills to continue.  Packing an emergency kit in each car is recommended to ensure warmth and safety.   Being sure that your home has a backup source of heat is also recommended.
  • Snow/Ice:  Actual snowfall forecasts for this region are problematic because of ice not being included in long term totals.   1976-77, our coldest winter, recorded 3.5" of snow.   The prescence of El Nino should bend our Raleigh-Durham snow totals north of 1977-78 approximately 11" outcome.  This season will be remembered for the Nor'easter's. 
  • Closing and Delays:   Wake County Schools should expect 12-15 days of delays or closings.

We are overdue for a week+ disruption to transportation, food and grocery supplies.  I recommend the following:
  • Be Supplied: Maintaining a larger reserve of food and other necessities (like Toilet Paper) so that 5-7 day stretches can be managed comfortably.
  • Secondary Power/Heat: In 2003, a historic ice storm knocked out large stretches of the power grid for days.  We are overdue to a similar disruption.   Have a plan for what to do if electricity is knocked out.  How will you and your family keep warm?  Cell phone battery powered chargers are also very inexpensive.
  • Be Home: As recently as last year, horror stories about taking 4-5 hours to drive 2 miles were common during a storm that started in the Triangle around noon.  Keep the roads available for those who must work.  Work from home if possible.   Plan B would be to leave work before the first flake hits the ground.  People learned last year how quickly a few flakes progressed to snow covered roads.
  • Be Safe:  Enjoying a good snowfall is a lot of fun. Wear proper boots and gloves.  Avoid trees and other situations that snow or ice weight can lead to serious injury or death.  Know where your sled is going before finding out using the school of hardknocks.  Have fun but be smart...
Winter 2014-15 promises to be cold with plenty of opportunities for snow and ice.  The potential exists for Central VA through North Central SC to see the worst anyone can remember.  Even if we do not achieve those lofty expectations, a memorable winter period will be experienced nonetheless.  

1 comment:

  1. You're welcome to enter NEWxSFC's 14th Annual 'Season-total' Snowfall Forecast contest.

    Deadline: 11:59 PM EST SUN 30-NOV-14