Warmer and potentially wetter winter ahead
for The Fence Post
The big question is what is the likelihood that temperatures and total precipitation amounts in your area this winter will be, either average, above average or below average? That’s what climatologists and meteorologists at the Climate Prediction Center examine and debate each of the four seasons, and now a month earlier than usual, they’ve produced their winter weather forecast.
“First off, let me tell you what I have most confidence in — winter temperatures. The overall temperatures (much like CPC predicts) will be warmer than normal across southern Colorado. That isn’t to say there won’t be cold spells, but the overall forecast for this winter will be warmer than normal,” said Kyle Mozley, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Pueblo, Colo.
There are a couple of reasons why. “The expected ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) is expected to remain elevated, with anomalies (deviations) around 0.3C (Celsius) to 0.5C across the NINO3.4 region. Then, regarding talk about a Modoki El Nino, this is where the Central Pacific remains warm while the rest of the Pacific remains in neutral condition. I believe anomalies will be near Modoki El Nino, but wouldn’t go as far as to say, yes, we’ll be in one,” Mozley said.
Neither El Niño no La Niña is expected to be a major factor in the winter forecast. Current sea-surface temperature forecasts suggest ENSO neutral conditions through the winter and into the early summer of next year.
“Therefore, blocking patterns and other hard-to-predict features could govern winter weather patterns. That said, any time there is a blocking high-pressure system positioned over eastern Canada or the northern Atlantic Ocean, cold air could come spilling southward, similar to what we’ve already seen on several occasions this autumn across the Plains and Midwest,” said Brad Rippey, USDA meteorologist, Office of the Chief Economist/World Agricultural Outlook Board in Washington, D.C.
Then, regarding winter precipitation, the forecast looks promising for Colorado.
“If the above normal precipitation pans out for the winter season in Colorado, it is good news for agriculture,” said Jennifer Stark, meteorologist-in-charge at the NWS in Pueblo.
Although the CPC has backed off on the above normal precipitation for this winter, there are indications that Colorado is expecting slightly above-normal precipitation.
That’s because it appears the Gulf of Mexico will remain open with moisture moving north into the area. The warmer than normal sea surface temperatures will keep the area active, with a generally favorable storm track.
“Much will also depend on smaller scale features like the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) and Arctic Oscillation (AO). These will provide periods of enhanced snowfall across the area. The AO tends to favor cold air outbreaks for eastern Colorado, while the MJO tends to bring periods of better precipitation to the area,” Mozley said. “The AO is hard to predict, with little confidence out beyond about two weeks. The MJO is pretty reliable with a 40-60 cyclic return period,” added Mozley, noting, “It is easily tracked and looks to remain active into the winter months. Precipitation will likely be on the plus side of normal, but just barely.”
For much of Wyoming, winter precipitation is forecast to be above normal, except the southern one-third where there are equal chances of having either normal, above normal or below normal precipitation. Winter temperatures in Wyoming are expected to be above normal, especially in southwest Wyoming. The exception is extreme northeast Wyoming, which is expecting equal chances of having either: normal, above or below normal temperatures.
“Just because there is no ‘blue’ (color) on the temperature map doesn’t mean there will be a ‘year without winter,’ as farmers and ranchers closely eye winter’s three-month forecast. In fact, significant day-to-day fluctuations in temperature are expected during the December to February period, and some of the cold waves could be quite sharp — especially across the Plains and Midwest,” Rippey said. However, he noted, if you average over the three-month period, general warmth is expected across much of the southern and western U.S. and equal chances of near, above and below-normal temperatures are indicated across the northern Plains and upper Midwest.
Recent wet trends in the northern and central Plains, and an overall warming trend in recent years are both strong influences on this year’s outlook and the anticipated winter impacts.
KANSAS AND NEBRASKA
“So, both Kansas and Nebraska are likely to experience a pretty wide variety of winter conditions which may be heavily influenced by other short-term patterns which may develop,” said Michael Moritz, warning coordination meteorologist at NWS in Hastings, Neb.
Temperature-wise, for Nebraska and most of northern and eastern Kansas, there are equal chances of having either normal, above or below normal. Then, above average temperatures are forecast for much of southern and western Kansas.
Northern Nebraska is expecting above normal winter precipitation. However, southern Nebraska and southward into all of Kansas have equal chances of either normal, above or below normal precipitation.
Others agree, the winter outlook appears to be a combination of trends and persistence.
“As it relates to agriculture, wet winters are almost always “worse” than dry winters. The outlooks seem to be anticipating a mean storm track across the central and northern Plains, which will likely bring temperature fluctuations, in addition to enhanced precipitation. Ranchers in the northern Plains probably did not want to see this type of outlook, however, I think predictability and confidence is low,” said Tyler Williams, ag climate and weather Extension educator at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
“Moisture in the winter is awful for calving and for feedlots,” Williams said. “For row crop producers, this gives them confidence of a full soil profile for northern areas next spring, but I don’t think any of them really wanted more moisture. At this point, this is certainly a ‘stay tuned’ forecast because I think the start of winter, and end of winter will bring different patterns, but a warmer pattern could dominate the start of winter and then a cold pattern to follow,” he added. ❖
— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.