Fading El Niño complicates NOAA's winter forecast

Press release:  Elusive El Niño challenges NOAA’s 2012 U.S. Winter Outlook

The western half of the continental U.S. and central and northern Alaska could be in for a warmer-than-average winter, while most of Florida might be colder-than-normal December through February, according to NOAA’s annual Winter Outlook announced today from the agency’s new Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in College Park, Md.

Forecasters with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center say a wavering El Niño, expected to have developed by now, makes this year’s winter outlook less certain than previous years.

“This is one of the most challenging outlooks we’ve produced in recent years because El Niño decided not to show up as expected,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “In fact, it stalled out last month, leaving neutral conditions in place in the tropical Pacific.”

When El Niño is present, warmer ocean water in the equatorial Pacific shifts the patterns of tropical rainfall that in turn influence the strength and position of the jetstream and storms over the Pacific Ocean and United States. This climate pattern gives seasonal forecasters confidence in how the U.S. winter will unfold. An El Niño watch remains in effect because there’s still a window for it to emerge.

Other climate factors can influence winter weather across the country. Some of these factors, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation, a prominent climate pattern, are difficult to predict more than one to two weeks in advance. The NAO adds uncertainty to the winter outlook in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic portions of the country.

Areas ravaged by extreme drought over the past year are unlikely to see much relief from drought conditions this winter.

In the 2012 U.S. Winter Outlook (December through February) odds favor:

  • Warmer-than-average temperatures in much of Texas, northward through the Central and Northern Plains and westward across the Southwest, the Northern Rockies, and eastern Washington, Oregon and California, as well as the northern two-thirds of Alaska.
  • Cooler-than-average temperatures in Hawaii and in most of Florida, excluding the panhandle.
  • Dryer-than-average conditions in Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, including Idaho, western Montana, and portions of Wyoming, Utah and most of Nevada.
  • Dryer-than-average conditions in the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and northern Missouri and eastern parts of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and western Illinois.
  • Wetter-than-average conditions across the Gulf Coast states from the northern half of Florida to eastern Texas.

The rest of the country falls into the “equal chance” category, meaning these areas have an equal chance for above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures and/or precipitation.

This seasonal outlook does not project where and when snowstorms may hit or provide total seasonal snowfall accumulations. Snow forecasts are dependent upon the strength and track of winter storms, which are generally not predictable more than a week in advance.

NOAA’s National Weather Service is the primary source of weather data, forecasts and warnings for the United States and its territories. NOAA’s National Weather Service operates the most advanced weather and flood warning and forecast system in the world, helping to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy. Working with partners, NOAA’s National Weather Service is building a Weather-Ready Nation to support community resilience in the face of increasing vulnerability to extreme weather. Visit us online at weather.gov and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/US.National.Weather.Service.gov .

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels at http://www.noaa.gov/socialmedia/.

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October 18, 2012 12:02 pm

After the last soggy six years in Seattle, I’m ready for some drier-than-average winters.

Tim Walker
October 18, 2012 12:02 pm

This forecast is probably a dud, because the changing pacific tropical picture was not taken into account appropriately.

J. Seifert
October 18, 2012 12:14 pm

There is the world famous NOAA prediction anecdote, which everybody needs
to know:
The indians in the Rocky Mountains went to the medicine man in Sept. and ask:
How could will the coming winter be? The medicine man threw some pebbles
into the air, jumped in a circle, made some smoke and said: Folks, the winter is
going to be severe, therefore: Collect lots of wood….! This scene was repeated
several times more.
In the end, the medicine man started to get doubts on his forcast and telephoned
to the NOAA climate prediction center. Answer from them: The winter will be very
He then asked: How do they know? And they answered: Our weather specialist
observers came just back from the Rocky Mountains: They saw the Indians were
collecting lots of wood…..JS

October 18, 2012 12:15 pm

Once again they can’t even predict for the next few months and expect us to change our whole global economy based on predictions for the next 100 years!

October 18, 2012 12:25 pm

Is it not easier for them to just say ‘We don’t frickin know what the weather will be!’ ?
That way, they will:
a) be being truthful
b) be unable to be shown to be wrong later!

October 18, 2012 12:25 pm

El Niño or La Niña do not drive anything but the very local weather. On the contrary El Niño or La Niña are the consequence of the relative northern and southern hemispheres Mobile Polar High dynamics. When you have record high ice area in the Antarctic, this generally means that southern polar MPHs are more powerful and thus traveling farther north, which help the meteorological equator to stay higher than usual in the northern hemisphere, helping cold water upwelling for South America to flood the Eastern Pacific. See here :
Nothing but a good book from Marcel Leroux will explain it all.

October 18, 2012 12:25 pm

Their forecast for dryer conditions raises a thought: Could it be that multiple la-ninas happen more often as a climate shits towards Cooling- and that droughts tend to occur on that side of the climate cycle?

October 18, 2012 12:26 pm

Science does not fully understand the cause or long term trends of El Nino and La Nina – it has been guess for decades – coin flips are 50/50 and I do not think the record of NOAA is much better.

Arfur Bryant
October 18, 2012 12:26 pm

“This is one of the most challenging outlooks we’ve produced in recent years because El Niño decided not to show up as expected,”
Sooo… roughly translated… “Our current prediction is no more likely to happen than our previous prediction which we know didn’t happen!”
Still, they’ve got a long way to go before they are as bad as the Met Office at predicting climate.

October 18, 2012 12:35 pm

Grant says
Henry says
nothing dry coming up on my horizon.
It’s going to get cooler and as a result also wetter…
It will take another 4 years before we have “bottomed out”.
stop worrying about the carbon. Start getting worried about the cold.

October 18, 2012 12:44 pm

No skill here. Abortive El Nino is being destroyed by powerful PDO. Indeed, massive cold water invasion along South American coast looks more like a return of LA NINA. Just released ECMWF
shows a highly amplified PNA- pattern developing. Cold and wet for the PAC NW. Warm and dry for the Southeast. October is ofter a good precursor for Winter trends.

October 18, 2012 12:51 pm

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources.
Mission FAIL!
Seaweed and chicken entrails anyone?
Or umble pie?

October 18, 2012 12:52 pm

The Australian BOM which is wedded to Warmism has of course been spectacularly wrong in all its long term weather predictions.
Rather than come out and admit that, it instead started to feature an ‘explanation’ of why we’ve been having a cool wet spell here, entitled; How El Nino affects our climate or some such.
The beauty is that being Warmist they were eagerly anticipating a full oscillation back to El Nino and and predicting a return of their beloved longed for drought/bushfire scenario…
Oh dear…oh deary dear….or deary deary me!

October 18, 2012 12:54 pm

Thierry says:
October 18, 2012 at 12:25 pm
“Nothing but a good book from Marcel Leroux will explain it all.”
/Sarc on
But you cannot trust him! He has no CV on the internet!
/Sarc Off

October 18, 2012 1:00 pm

“2012 Saw Warmest September On Record Across The Globe, Says NOAA”
“At the same time, in Antarctica, winter sea ice extent edged past 2006 to reach its all-time highest extent on record, although climate scientists said that this too is paradoxically connected to global warming.”
NOAA is challenged in all respects.

October 18, 2012 1:01 pm

‘A weather-ready nation’?
TIme to put lagging round the Alaskan coast and double-glaze New England.

October 18, 2012 1:13 pm

Uhm… apologies for the spelling error in my last post. I am Very Sorry… I type with the keyboard at a bit of an angle, and sometimes miss letters…….

October 18, 2012 1:13 pm

Winter weather patterns are steered by other factors as well but NOAA puts a ridiculously high weight on El Nino /La Nina. This is why the Farmers Almanac usually comes closer to the truth IMO.

stephen richards
October 18, 2012 1:13 pm

NOAA doesn’t understand the wethaer and forecasts the climate and weather incorrectly. That’s their job.

Berényi Péter
October 18, 2012 1:18 pm

It’s weather that complicates NOAA’s winter forecast most. Without it all would be plain and simple.

Lars P.
October 18, 2012 1:22 pm

From the WUWT readers predictions in May here I counted 8 for El Nino, 6 for La Nada and 12 for La Nina
wonder what comes in the end?

October 18, 2012 1:28 pm

That’s a lot of words to say we haven’t got a clue what this year’s winter weather will be.

October 18, 2012 1:45 pm

If David Appell is reading this, it might give him a clue as to why, on Roy Spencer’s blog, I said that NOAA had a dismal record for predicting El Nino/La Nina.

October 18, 2012 1:49 pm

Maybe NOAA could do some human sacrifice. Sure their government has some drones for hire.

October 18, 2012 2:18 pm

Could this be another tipping point? Met office says no statistically significant warming for 16 years. AGW brigade needs a El Nino to rally their declining faithful, instead all that is ahead is cold. Is this the last straw where they give up, go home & finally admit the AGW fraud is over?

October 18, 2012 3:07 pm

Where’s the Farmer’s Almanac when you need one?

October 18, 2012 3:11 pm

For those who like graphs, I provided a quick El Nino status update on Monday:
And next Monday there’ll be the mid-month update.

David A. Evans
October 18, 2012 3:12 pm

Otter says:
October 18, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Uhm… apologies for the spelling error in my last post. I am Very Sorry… I type with the keyboard at a bit of an angle, and sometimes miss letters…….

No apology needed, the weather shits are all around us. 😛

October 18, 2012 3:40 pm

Thierry, that is brilliant. I have not seen any connection to the MPH but something just clicked when I read your brief explanation. Are their any papers on this topic? It makes sense that the MPH would drive the PDO.

October 18, 2012 3:50 pm

dave britton, the Chief Press Officer at the UK Met Office (who we have become familiar with of late), could teach NOAA something about the common touch:
29 Nov 2010: ITV UK: Snow Chat with Met weather forecaster David Britton
Dave Britton: Simon, The cold and snowy weather we are seeing at the moment is not related to climate change, and nor does it in any way undermine the scientific consensus that our world is warming. In a warmer world it is very possible that we will continue to see some cold winters and snow, it just isn’t as common as it used to be. In fact our research shows that cold and snowy weather in winter is now 4 times less likely than it was in Charles Dickens’ time.
Delingpole had something to say about the Met Office a few weeks later:
20 Dec 2010: Panic and fear close their icy tentacles round the doomed Met Office

erik sloneker
October 18, 2012 3:54 pm

As Kate at SDA likes to say……”that’s the sound of settled science”. Their odds of being right are no better than a coin toss.

Robert of Ottawa
October 18, 2012 4:47 pm

My theory, which is mine, ahem, is that dinosaurs are thin at one end, thick in the middle and thin at the other we don’t know bugger all about climate. I reckon Europe and the US will have bad, cold winter and Siberia will be the place to take a warm vacation.

October 18, 2012 4:56 pm

After a fairly dry winter, we had a dry hot summer here in Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs Utilities is talking about returning to water rationing for lawn watering next year. Still, I have a funny feeling that there’s a big snowstorm/blizzard for us out there this winter. Just a feeling.

Bill Illis
October 18, 2012 6:17 pm

The El Nino was a short-lived very minor event. It is now gone and the sea surface temperatures are about +0.2C. It can get to +3.0C and the global ocean average is warmer than this in relative terms so it is a non-event neutral year now.
One of the differences this time, is that the atmosphere did not co-operate in this typically coupled ocean-atmosphere process. It never did reach a coupled state. The atmosphere was producing La Nina numbers while the ocean was trying El Nino numbers.
Something to keep in mind for the next go-around.

October 18, 2012 7:10 pm

Frankly, I find the abrupt nature of this activity a bit troubling. Amplification of colder conditions elsewhere are inevitable. Living in Florida , 2 and 3 years ago, was not fun for several months. Let alone the fish kills…………

October 18, 2012 7:15 pm

So Rick Werme, I guess it is safe to call it an el nino now?
Sorry for jumping the gun by 2 days. 🙂
John M Reynolds

john robertson
October 18, 2012 7:17 pm

In climatology speak, If this rate of ice expansion continues we are all going to be entombed in ice by next Xmas, Canada is doomed..Sarc of course

October 18, 2012 7:47 pm

WUWT’s NINO3.4 Ensemble Forecast graph in the ENSO reference page is broken. The graph was last updated on September 24. (See the second graph from the top: http://wattsupwiththat.com/reference-pages/climatic-phenomena-pages/enso/ )
Those who developed the habit of checking ENSO predictions regularly thanks to WUWT can now find the most recent predictions here: http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/CDB/Forecast/figf4.shtml
The latest graph shows that from January onwards the chances of La Nina re-emerging is greater than El Nino.

Pamela Gray
October 18, 2012 7:49 pm


October 18, 2012 8:05 pm

I don’t know “Jack” about this stuff, but I can read a graph and discern trends. The appearance to me is that we are running headlong into a LaNina. Now maybe it stabilizes or turns as fast as it has come on, or maybe I see something that isn’t there. WhadoIknow?

October 18, 2012 8:30 pm

My ol’ ma said it best: Whether its hot or whether its cold, there’s goin’ a be weather, whether or not…

October 18, 2012 8:32 pm

Whether its cold or whether its hot – rhymes better that way…

John F. Hultquist
October 18, 2012 9:56 pm

Deekaman says:
October 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm
“The appearance to me is that we are running headlong into a LaNina.

Maybe you just got a bad something in your smoking material.
Using the strong words of “borderline, neutral, weak, & possibly” the following report says this:
Borderline ENSO-neutral/ weak El Niño conditions are expected to continue into Northern Hemisphere winter 2012-13, possibly strengthening during the next few months. [page 29]

October 18, 2012 11:11 pm

El Minnow.

Richard deSousa
October 18, 2012 11:33 pm

The NOAA forecast seems wrong. Isn’t the PDO in a negative phase? So with La Nina being present instead of El Nino wouldn’t the two eastern Pacific Ocean phenomena in negative phases create a cooler climate here in northern California?

October 19, 2012 3:11 am

The Australian BOM is predicting a hot dry summer for Aus. Together with their warmist friends at the Aus Climate Commission they have been predicting permanent reduced rainfall together with what little rain does fall will never fill our dams anymore.
I’m getting my roof checked for leaks !!!

October 19, 2012 3:55 am

I thought that CAGW relied on CO2 and not el Ninos. We have all been mistaken. We now need to fight the el Nino scare or lack thereof as well and be asked to swallow another 17 year hiatus nonsense.
Is there such a thing as el Nonno (grandfather) in climatology?

October 19, 2012 5:25 am

The AO has been in negative territory since the beginning of the month. I’m no longer a weather forecaster; but, if the trends continue through Nov and Dec, winter will be coming early for much of North America.

October 19, 2012 5:56 am

To Zbb concerning MPH, ENSO and MArcel Leroux :
You can find thourough explanatation through Amazon and “Look Inside” capability.
Only French amazon site works for me.
Go to Chapter 13.3 and you will find a whole chapter concerning ENSO related to Mobile Polar Highs.

Kelvin Vaughan
October 19, 2012 8:29 am

highflight56433 says:
October 18, 2012 at 1:00 pm
“2012 Saw Warmest September On Record Across The Globe, Says NOAA”
Not in the UK ! Below average here!

October 19, 2012 9:27 am

Does Joe Bastardi have any updates on his winter forecast?

Tim Clark
October 19, 2012 10:25 am

{Otter says:
October 18, 2012 at 12:25 pm
Their forecast for dryer conditions raises a thought: Could it be that multiple la-ninas happen more often as a climate shits towards cooling……}
A Fruedian slip with profound truth—–If the climate does continue cooling, it’ll certainly be the shits.

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