Tuesday, November 4, 2014

2014-2015 Winter Outlook

'This will be a terrible winter'.

'It will be worse than last year'.

You've probably heard your own variation of those phrases to sum up forecasts for the upcoming winter. Right?

There is no denying it. Last winter will go down as one of the worst on record for Toledo. It SMASHED all-time snow records and flirted with the unimaginable cold of the last 1970's. So is a repeat really possible? Let's dive into facts, not hype. Winter forecasting is still a VERY difficult science. Just watch this story and information from Meteorologist Robert Shiels:

Although forecasting a season in advance is a difficult task, there are some pre-cursors we can look at to make the best forecast available. Such as global sea temperatures, the position of the jet stream and current snow cover. Here is our forecast:

TEMPERATURE: Below average.

This doesn't mean polar bears will be seen walking down the streets. There will be some fluxuation in temperatures throughout the season.

The key many times to just how bone chilling a winter can get is how quickly snow cover across the northern US becomes established. This will be something to watch closely the next 2 months. Right now there is a significant amount of snow over northern north america and Siberia. While that can be used a signal for a very cold winter ahead, it isn't a perfect method. Take Nov 2011 for example. Lots of snow (in fact, more than at the same time this year) but the winter ended extremely warm.

2014 Snow Cover

2012 Snow Cover

SNOW: Near to above average.

I think the sweet spot this year is in the 40-55" range. That would be above the seasonal average of 37" but a far cry from the 86" last season. Keep in mind the winter of 2013-2014 broke the all-time snow record by over a foot. A repeat of that seems very unlikely, even if a snowy winter was apparent. 

Follow Meteorologist Ryan Wichman all season for the latest storm updates:


Trying to predict months in advance is far from an exact science at this point. We all get that. So as we get closer and even into winter here are some of the top wild-cards to watch that may sway our weather one direction or another.

-How quickly the lakes freeze: Last year this happened rather quick and limited the amount of lake effect clouds and snow showers the area saw. An unfrozen Lake Erie can also keep lakeshore communities warmer than inland locations. In two images below we take the two largest Great Lakes and show how quickly water temperatures are already dropping. Already the temperature is lower than that of this time a year ago in Superior and Michigan. 

-Drought in the western United States: Until a large pattern shift appears likely, the drought and warm conditions in California and western United States will continue. With this in mind, with high pressure esablished in the western US it is likely an active and chilly pattern will continue for the east.

-Pacific Tropical Storms: Very strong storms near Japan and western Pacific can have a large influence on our weather. The effects are not immediate but develop over the span of days and weeks. A single large storm can and has had the ability to influence global scale patterns.

While winter forecasting in the past can be viewed as little more than throwing a dart at the board there is meaningful science that can help tip the scales one way or another. Here are more link that dive even deeper into the science of winter forecasting. Enjoy.

NWS Detroit Winter Outlook
WSI Winter Blog
Climate Prediction Center Winter Outlook