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Here’s what experts are predicting for this summer’s U.S. weather

It’s looking like most Americans will see another hotter-than-average summer

People cool off in the James River at Belle Isle in Richmond in July 2020. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
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Forecasting a hot, humid summer doesn’t exactly require a crystal ball, but some experts are saying this summer could be a bit more harsh than usual. Meteorologists are expecting above-average temperatures and rainfall in parts of the eastern and southern United States, with near-normal conditions for parts of the Plains and Intermountain West.

The predictions come from the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, but they’re echoed by AccuWeather, a popular private forecasting company., meanwhile, is forecasting a cooler-than-average start to the summer for the southern United States, taking a more aggressive stance on the role that a burgeoning El Niño pattern will play.

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Regardless of how the summer shapes up, a few staples of the summertime are a virtual guarantee — large thunderstorm complexes, perhaps with damaging or destructive winds, will probably affect parts of the Plains, Midwest or even Mid-Atlantic, while the late summer will feature increased tropical concerns in vulnerable parts of the Southeast and along the Eastern Seaboard.

Overall, a few highlights stood out in the three outlooks:

  • Cooler weather is likely over the southern United States for June because of the position of key weather systems influenced by a budding El Niño.
  • Chilly water temperatures off the Pacific coast and soggy soils in California may delay the arrival of brutal heat for the West Coast.
  • The Pacific Northwest is looking hotter and drier than normal.
  • The Plains and perhaps Midwest will see the eventual emergence of above-average temperatures.
  • The jury is out for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, where the varying forecast enterprises have differing opinions.

What experts think

The outlook from the Climate Prediction Center

Perhaps the most official summer outlook is that of the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, which is painting above-average odds of elevated temperatures across the West, the South and the East Coast. The bull’s eye of the anomalous heat should, according to its outlooks, be centered over New Mexico, eastern Arizona and the Four Corners. The northern Plains and Upper Midwest should see temperatures near average during June, July and August.

While many might expect El Niño or La Niña to be a main driver in summer weather over the Lower 48, ENSO, or the El Niño Southern Oscillation, has its biggest impacts in the wintertime. For summer, that means less predictability.

“We’re actually expecting the transition for El Niño during the May through July season, so confidence increases [deeper into the summer],” said Johnna Infanti, a meteorologist at the Weather Prediction Center who produced the recent summer outlook. “It only plays a minor role, since the atmosphere takes awhile to catch up to the warming [waters] in the tropical Pacific” that are associated with El Niño.

There were some conjectures that meteorologists were able to draw knowing that an El Niño is looming, including the potential for drier weather in the Pacific Northwest and coastal Alaska.

Apropos to precipitation, the eastern U.S., and particularly the Ohio and Tennessee valleys, look wetter than typical, according to the Weather Service. Extra dry weather, meanwhile, should be found over the Desert Southwest — contributing to the heat also expected there.

AccuWeather’s call

AccuWeather agrees on increased East Coast heat and odds of a more typical summer over the Midwest and northern Plains. Where the outlooks differ is over the West Coast. AccuWeather hints at cooler-than-average conditions, whereas the National Weather Service expects a toasty summer along the Pacific shoreline.

Regarding the East Coast, AccuWeather is forecasting more 90-degree days than average in places like Boston, New York, Philadelphia and D.C. That said, AccuWeather doesn’t think it will be as hot as last summer, when Boston hit 90 degrees 21 times (compared with an average of 15 times), New York hit that temperature 25 times (the average is 17 times), and Philadelphia did four dozen times (the average is 30 times).

For the West Coast, AccuWeather states that summer’s hottest weather should be delayed, cutting back on temperatures. It blames cooler water temperatures in the eastern Pacific, coupled with waterlogged soil left from a winter of heavy rains. That, AccuWeather argues, will make it tougher to heat the air above as quickly.

Those are similar factors to what the Weather Service looked at.

“We take a look at a number of different dynamical climate models, as well as the state of local drivers like soil moisture or local sea surface temperatures,” Infanti said.

Another place that AccuWeather’s and the Weather Service’s outlooks differ? The central states.

AccuWeather places a bull’s eye of warmth over the Plains, while the Weather Service is hesitant to swing either way.

“There’s a bit more uncertainty over the central U.S. because, in general, the climate models we use have better agreement toward the coast,” Infanti said. “There was a tendency toward mixed signals … for that little swath … over the [central United States].”

The predication from is also in line with AccuWeather in forecasting a cool early summer for the western United States for similar reasons. Like AccuWeather, it paints odds of anomalously warm weather over the Plains states. believes that the southern U.S. will see a cooler start to summer. The National Weather Service agrees that the start of summer will be cool, but believes the second half of summer will feature heat that will compensate. seems to agree.

The reason? is expecting a more rapid swing to El Niño, which Infanti at the Weather Service alluded to. That will induce ridging, or the development of a stagnant heat dome within a northward jog of the jet stream, over the northern U.S.; that should keep places like Seattle and Portland, Ore., warm while squashing the cooler weather over the South. That should break down deeper into the summer.

Across the board, particularly from July onward, forecasters at all three organizations did pinpoint the Desert Southwest, particularly New Mexico and eastern Arizona, as looking especially hot and dry. Infanti said a “strong signal” existed for dry weather, and dry air heats up faster, which reinforces hot temperatures.

There will also be a delayed start to the Southwest monsoon, or the periodic afternoon thundershowers that hover over the desert and bring much of the region’s annual rainfall.