By Joseph D’Aleo, CCM
The Winter of 2013-14 was wild over North America.
Most forecasters including NOAA, the media and public, were caught by surprise. The arctic air pushed the grid to the brink of failure and led to supply issues and resulting price spikes for other sources of energy stressing homeowners and businesses. Look for a repeat this winter despite NOAA and Department of Energy forecasts of a warmer winter and no repeat of the polar vortex.
I, and most all meteorologists, have a high regard for the work of our forecaster brethren at the National Weather Service. NOAA has done some great research on factors affecting longer term weather and they do a commendable job with medium range forecasts.
The government forecasters do a have a blind spot, however, with seasonal forecasts. Part of the reason, a former NOAA Climate Prediction Center Director once told me in 2003, was due to pressure from academia only to use El Ninos and La Ninas with an politically driven adjustment for long term warming trends (ignoring the fact they have been non-existent for almost two decades).
In September I was invited to a meeting at a large company in Toronto that advises many organizations on how to manage their way through energy market fluctuations and supply disruptions. They had heard that we at Weatherbell (in July of 2013) had projected a historically cold winter for 2013/14. That is in comparison to Environment Canada (Canadian Government weather service) prediction in late November 2013 that last winter would be warm in Toronto and the Great Lakes.
Remember how cold last winter was for us here in New Hampshire??? It was even worst in Toronto and most large US cities around the Great Lakes. They wanted to know how Weatherbell got it right when both the Canadian & US Government forecasts were so wrong.
Our research at Weatherbell had identified a pool of warm water that had developed in the central Pacific during the super La Nina of 2010/11 and slowly drifted with the wind driven currents into the Gulf of Alaska. A similar warm pool formation and movement occurred, during the brutal winters of the 1916-1918 period, 1976-1978 and again in 2002-2004. Indeed it was the coldest December to March in Chicago in the entire record from 1872 beating out the previous record cold. Vermont in the deep snow, had its coldest March ever, beating out 1916.
Unlike government forecasters that have to contend with toting the party line on Global Warming by academia and politicians, private sector forecasters investigate the relationship of many factors, major multidecadal cycles in the Pacific and Atlantic, variances on the sun, the winds in the high atmosphere that flip back and forth, soil moisture, snow cover in winter, volcanic eruptions, and unusual features like that warm pool. We study the past intensively to forecast the future. At Weatherbell we have 3400 clients that depend on us and they will tell you we usually get it right.
We had promised a cool, spring and summer, an erratic fall this year and have advised our clients since early this year this upcoming winter will be another hard winter characterized by lots of snow. It should be cold over much of the country but focused in the east
NOAA meanwhile has again forecast a warm winter especially west and northeast. They have it cooler in the south, mainly because they see clouds and a southern storm track with the average of all El Ninos. They have expanded the cold to the southeast and will likely expand it to the north but not enough. They have had a clear warm bias in the past dozen years. A public information officer from NOAA in the DC area has heard many complaints from local and regional offices about that warm bias.
El Ninos come in more than one flavor. El Ninos displaced towards the central tropical Pacific. Are cold to very cold here in the east. We told our clients this will be one of the cold ones like the ones in 1968/69, 1976/77, 1977/78, 1993/94, 2002/03, 2003/04, 2009/10. Because of some of the other factors, there will be a period of four to six weeks of intense cold midwinter.
Snow will fall in the east this weekend! Snow will be heavy into February in much of the country. But fortunately, most of the similar years had winter end early. When the snow melts in March, milder weather follows in March and April. We all will be ready for it. Meanwhile prepare for the worst.