Will This Winter Live up to the Hype?

October 15, 2015 12:36 PM
Will This Winter Live up to the Hype?

Fall is here, and winter is just around the corner. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center has released its winter outlook for the U.S. amid excitement over the drought-busting potential of one of the strongest El Niños on record.

But Mike Halpert, CPC deputy director, reminds us that longer range forecasts are more about probabilities, not promises.

“We try to stay away from the hype,” he says. “Although, [we do recognize] this El Niño has generated a lot of interest and excitement.”

That’s because wintertime El Niño conditions typically bring drought relief to California and the Southwest. This event isn’t an exception, either – with a greater than 50% probability these regions will see more precipitation than average in December, January and February.

Unfortunately for California, that might not be enough. Currently, more than half the state is categorized as category D4 exceptional drought – the most severe category assessed by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

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

However, Halpert says drought removal is more plausible in the Southwest and southern Plains.

Here are the other winter conditions NOAA says are likely scenarios:

  • Wetter-than-average conditions across the southern U.S. This will be 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 half of the U.S.
  • Below-average temperatures in the southern Plains and Southeast.


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

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

For NOAA’s complete winter outlook, click here.

Is this forecast favorable for your farm? Share your thoughts in the comments below or continue the conversation on this AgWeb discussion thread.

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