NOAA 2019-2020 Winter Outlook and its imapct for central Ohio


Every year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) releases their initial winter outlook for the upcoming winter season.

They issue outlooks for temperature and precipitation over the winter months (December, January, February).

Winter Temperature Outlook(DJF)

Warmer-than-average temperatures are expected across much of the U.S. this winter according to the Climate Prediction Center (CPC).

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Winter Precipitation Outlook(DJF)

Above-average precipitation is likely across the Northern Plains, Upper Mississippi Valley, the Great Lakes and parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

Drier-than-average conditions are most likely for Louisiana, parts of Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma as well as areas of northern and central California.

One of the tools used to predict long term weather over the United States is the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate pattern, which often influences the winter. Before we dig a little deeper, let's review what ENSO actually is.

According to the NWS, The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a recurring climate pattern involving changes in the temperature of waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. On periods ranging from about three to seven years, the surface waters across a large swath of the tropical Pacific Ocean warm or cool by anywhere from 1°C to 3°C, compared to normal.

This oscillating warming and cooling pattern, referred to as the ENSO cycle, directly affects rainfall distribution in the tropics and can have a strong influence on weather across the United States and other parts of the world. El Niño and La Niña are the extreme phases of the ENSO cycle; between these two phases is a third phase called ENSO-neutral.

This year, ENSO-Neutral conditons are in place and are expected to persist into the spring.

ENSO Neutral Pattern in the Winter(Courtesy: NOAA)

Here's a look at the typical winter pattern for ENSO-Neutral conditions. Colder probabilities are favored across north-central and northeast portions of the U.S., due to a polar jet stream shifted further south. Meanwhile, warmer probabilities are favored across ths southern US, with above normal precipitation favored across portions of the southeast U.S.

So what does this mean for us in central Ohio?

NOAA Winter Outlook

According to NOAA, above-average precipitation is expected over the winter months. This DOES NOT mean it's all going to be snow. This is a combination of both rain and snow, so hypothetically, we could end up with above average precipitation this winter but end up with below-average snow.

That's not what is forecasted necessarily, but it's a possibility.

NOAA Winter Outlook

Temperatures, however, are expected to be slightly above average, but the signal isn't as strong as the precipitation outlook. NOAA is leaning slightly towards the fact that the winter will be above average, but again, we could still have a cold winter and be slightly above average with respect to temperatures.

An example would be is if we were seeing a stretch of days where highs and lows are in the upper 30's and mid 20's in January, but the average high is roughly 36 and low is around 22 degrees. Essentially, it can be still cold out and yet end up being warmer than average.

Another interesting tidbit is that a warmer than average winter would lead to less snow. That may be true for some, but not necessarily if you're closer to the Great Lakes.

If it's warmer out, the Great Lakes won't freeze over as fast, which would keep the lake-effect snow machine running longer into the latter half of winter since that fuels moisture to systems to allow more snow to fall.

According to the NWS, The El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate pattern often influences the winter, neutral conditions are in place this year and expected to persist into the spring.

In the absence of El Nino or La Nina, long-term trends become a key predictor for the outlook, while other climate patterns, such as the Madden-Julian Oscillation and Arctic Oscillation (AO), will likely play a larger role in determining winter weather.

For example, the AO influences the number of arctic air masses that intrude into the U.S., but its predictability is limited to a couple weeks.

For NOAA's complete winter outlook, visit here.