Weather Blog

Updated forecasts still say mild, dry winter on tap for Seattle

Updated forecasts still say mild, dry winter on tap for Seattle
Sun sets behind the Space Needle on Aug. 25, 2014. (Photo courtesy: Tim Durkan Photography)

First off, let me start this blog by saying if you're a skier, snowboarder, or big winter fan, you might want to skip over to the sports section. Happier news in Seattle there these days.

For those who have the stomach to continue, the new August version of the long-range 90-day forecasts issued each month by NOAA are in and while the forecasts themselves for this fall and winter haven't changed much in what they've been saying, the tone of the message is a little stronger for some months.

Let's begin with the short term 30 day forecast for September and...it's more of the same.

These maps had correctly predicted our hot July and August, and say September will remain warmer than normal with fairly high confidence:



The precipitation map doesn’t have a signal either way which worked well for July and August, which technically both months will end up wetter than normal despite most of the rain just coming on a handful of days and most days sunny and warm-to-hot.

But what about the autumn and winter?

The maps are still going with stronger signals that it will be warmer and drier during this period. For example, here is the November-January 90 day period map:



That shows a strong dry signal and a fairly decent warm signal.

Then as we go through winter, the dry signal fades but the warm temperature signal gets even stronger:



The other periods are there in the photo gallery above to peruse. There are some changes to the maps compared to the ones issued in July but many are minor tweaks.

Now this doesn’t mean it's going to be 70 degrees in January or that snow won't fall in the lowlands this winter. This is indicating that there is a greater than average chance of warmer than normal conditions during the period. If you want to dive into specifics, for February-April map above, it shows a 47% chance of above normal temperatures compared to 31 percent normal temps and only 22 percent chance it'll be below normal.

And if you really want to get into the gory statistical nuances of these maps, the forecast is for about a half to full degree of above-normal temperatures by average. That doesn't sound like a lot but it would translate to a higher than average snow level.

Why? Why? WHY? Won't someone think of the (stuck in school) children?!?!

As I've mentioned before in earlier blogs this summer, these long range maps are mainly being based on a predicted weak to moderate El Nino event generating this summer. El Nino autumns and winters tend to be warmer and drier than normal in the Pacific Northwest and these maps follow those traditional trends.

But forecasters are understandably a bit weary because so far, the ocean isn't really following the script of an El Nino.

I'll spare you the meteorological gobbledegook (super weather geeks can read it here, and start under "Current Atmospheric and Oceanic Conditions") but there are phrases in there like "slowed the transition to El Nino in recent weeks" and "not consistent with a developing warm event."

You might remember news last month that forecasters dropped the odds of an El Nino forming this winter from 80 percent to 65 percent. And we had an example just two winters ago of an El Nino fizzling unexpectedly. So winter fans, all hope is not lost!

However, these climate forecast models that predict these El Nino-type events are still quite adamant that despite the Pacific Ocean not playing along right now, one will form, even if the strength is somewhat up for debate. Anything over +0.5 is considered El Nino and most of them are on board:



So forecasters naturally want to follow along as these models can do way more math than we can. But to use an analogy, we're all like Linus sitting in the pumpkin patch being told the Great Pumpkin (in this case, El Nino) is coming. For our credibility's sake, let's hope Lucy wasn't right, but we won't blame the winter weather fans for hoping that we forecasters get stood up.

Farmer's Almanacs: Don't believe those silly NOAA forecasts

Not everyone is on board with the mild, dry winter in the Northwest.

If you want to believe at least the "Farmer's Almanac" (not to be confused with the "Old Farmer's Almanac") they are eschewing the El Nino prediction and instead, going with a "chilly" winter with "normal precipitation" (although what exactly does "chilly" mean? A 48 degree day in January is warmer than normal but not chilly?" Then again, they describe the Great Lakes as "Stinging and Normal Snowfall" while the North-Central states are "Frigid and Flaky" -- so it'll be cold in Fargo with several dates getting stood up?)


Photo: FarmersAlmanac.com

Meanwhile, the Old Farmer's Almanac (Motto: "We've been at this 26 years longer than those whippersnapper 'Farmer's Almanac' folks") shades a bit toward the NOAA maps with a prediction of a very dry November and a very warm December, January and February, but they are predicting a very wet December-January. They also go opposite the NOAA forecast in leaning normal for March and a cool April.

Guess we'll have to wait and see if we do end up with a mild winter (The Great Pumpkin arises!) or perhaps chilly, but hopefully not stinging or flaky.