NOAA winter outlook: a coin toss for D.C.’s temperatures and precipitation

November 21, 2013

NOAA unveiled its winter outlook this morning and it offers little guidance about what to expect in the Washington, D.C. metro region and much of the Mid-Atlantic.

The outlook calls for “equal chances” of above or below average temperatures and precipitation locally.



Related: Capital Weather Gang’s 2013-14 winter outlook

Strong climate patterns that offer long range predictability are absent this year, NOAA said.

“It’s a challenge to produce a long-term winter forecast without the climate pattern of an El Niño or a La Niña in place out in the Pacific because those climate patterns often strongly influence winter temperature and precipitation here in the United States,” said Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

In a conference call with press, Halpert re-iterated the difficulties in producing this year’s outlook, owing to lack of an El Niño or a La Niña.

Halpert explained that even in parts of the country where they’re predicting differences from normal, they don’t rule out other alternatives.  The outlook is “probabilistic”, he stressed.

Halpert also emphasized the overall limitations of seasonal forecasting, describing it as a “young and evolving science.”

Video: NOAA’s Mike Halpert explains winter outlook

Questions and answers

Halpert addressed the following questions in the NOAA press conference…

Q: What about the Arctic Oscillation? Can’t October Siberian snow cover help predict that pattern, which often provides considerable insight about winter temperatures in the East?

A: “It is something we’re still looking at in a research mode. It [Siberian snow cover] does show some predictability [for the AO]… But it’s not clear how much it explains. It didn’t really inform that much in this outlook.”

Related: Judah Cohen winter outlook: a downer for East Coast snow lovers

Q: Can we say whether this winter will be more or less extreme compared to previous winters?

A: “Extremes are something that there’s a lot of value in being able to forecast. This forecast is looking at averages. Often memorable winters [with lots of extremes] are associated with consistent tropical forcing out of the Pacific from a El Niño or a La Niña. Without that, we’re probably likely to see something a little more benign. We’re likely to see more changeable weather than anything that really persists.”

Q: Can we predict the Superbowl weather?

A: “For a reliable forecast for a particular day, you won’t get a reliable forecast until a week or less out.”

Outlook for the rest of the country

NOAA’s most significant winter prediction in the Lower 48 is the re-development of drought across the Southwest and Texas.

Here are the other outlook highlights, via NOAA:

The Precipitation Outlook favors:
• Below-average precipitation in the Southwest, Southeast and the Alaskan panhandle.
• Above-average precipitation in the Northern Rockies, particularly over Montana and northern Wyoming and in Hawaii.

The Temperature Outlook favors:
• Below-average temperatures in the Northern Plains and the Alaskan Panhandle.
• Above-average temperatures in the Southwest, the South-Central U.S., parts of the Southeast, New England and western Alaska.

The rest of the country falls into equal chance categories for temperature and precipitation.

Related

AccuWeather winter outlook
Doug Hill and Doug Kammerer winter outlook
Farmers’ Almanac winter outlook

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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