Forecast Winter Conditions

November 16, 2015 10:18 AM

El Niño has many excited, but it might not deliver on everyone’s wish list

Fall is here, and winter is just around the corner. Amid excitement over the drought-busting potential of one of the strongest El Niños on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) recently released its winter outlook for the U.S.

Yet longer-range forecasts are more probability than promise, cautions Mike Halpert, CPC deputy director.

“We try to stay away from the hype,” he says.

Wintertime El Niño conditions typically bring drought relief to California and the Southwest, and there is greater than 50% probability these regions will see more precipitation than average in December, January and February.

Drought Reversal? Unfortunately for California, that might not be enough. More than half the state is categorized as being in exceptional drought—the most severe category on the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“A wetter-than-average winter is not likely to erase four years of drought,” Halpert explains. “California would need close to twice its normal rainfall to get out of drought, and that’s unlikely.”

Drought removal is more plausible in the Southwest and southern Plains, Halpert says. Also likely:

  • Wetter-than-average conditions in the southern U.S., most amplified in the Southeast and Florida.
  • Drier-than-average conditions in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies, plus areas near the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley.
  • Above-average temperatures in much of the West and northern U.S.
  • Below-average temperatures in the southern Plains and Southeast.

NOAA does not forecast when or where snowstorms will occur, although they do pay attention to historical patterns, Halpert adds.

“We’ve seen in past El Niños some big snowstorms in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, so that’s always a possibility,” he says.

What Does It Mean To Me?
  • El Niño might soothe drought conditions, making it a popular news item.
  • Yet the system won't end multi-year dryness in places such as California.
  • Corn Belt producers might see warm conditions this winter, one expert says.

Second Opinion. When consulting a doctor, it’s often wise to solicit a second opinion. The same could be said of long-range weather forecasts. At Weather Trends International (WTI), predictions for winter depart in a few places compared to NOAA’s outlook. WTI predicts cooler-than-normal temperatures out West and a bigger section of the Midwest facing warmer-than-normal conditions. 

Overall, CEO Bill Kirk says this winter could end up being the warmest in four years and the second warmest of the past 14 years. That might dampen the spirits of outdoor enthusiasts hoping for good skiing and snowmobiling weather, but for everyone else, it’s a winter that might go easy on the wallet.

“Winter heating bills could be 25% to 50% less than last year,” Kirk says.

CEO Bill Kirk of Weather Trends International will share his weather outlook and more in his presentation, “The Road Ahead: Crop, Weather and Price Outlooks” during the 2016 Top Producer Seminar. To register, visit

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Spell Check

bloomer, WI
11/16/2015 10:01 PM

  you cant tell tomorrows weather yet all winters


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