Don’t expect a particularly harsh winter, but a volatile one. That’s the essence of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s winter outlook, released Thursday.
The agency is forecasting warmer-than-average temperatures over a large part of the nation, in keeping with recent trends. Winters are warming up because of climate change, and the overwhelming majority of recent years have tended to be mild on balance.
But even with winters trending milder, they have still unleashed brutal cold snaps and blockbuster storms, and there’s no reason this year won’t be different.
The temperature forecast
Most of the nation is favored to be warmer than normal, but “cold weather is anticipated and some areas could still experience a colder-than-average winter,” the outlook said.
Areas least likely to be cold, relative to average, are Alaska and Hawaii, where the outlook highlights high chances for above-average temperatures. Abnormally warm oceans surround both of these states, which have experienced record-breaking temperatures at times since the summer.
The precipitation forecast
NOAA’s outlook paints a sprawling zone with elevated chances for above-normal precipitation from Montana to the northern Mid-Atlantic. Within this zone, it’s especially likely to be wet in the northern plains and Upper Midwest. These areas also had a very wet second half of winter last year, which led to historic spring and summer flooding, and the situation could repeat next year if this forecast is correct.
Ocean temperatures are abnormally high off the California coast, forming a zone some scientists have referred to as “the blob.” Although some scientists have attempted to link this warm water with elevated chances for drought in California, Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, told reporters Thursday that he’s unconvinced.
The blob “usually doesn’t play a large role in climate outcomes over North America,” he said.
Halpert made clear that NOAA’s forecast for drought in California is based on computer model forecasts, not the high offshore temperatures.