Seasonal Forecasts: Speculation at its Best

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Summer is now unofficially and officially over. Labor Day has come and gone, the kids are back in school, and the fall equinox is behind us. We are squarely in fall, and for most of us who enjoy sliding on snow; we’re looking to winter with some level of excitement.

Weather map
Looks like it’s going to be warmer than usual in some places, colder than usual in some places, and, wait, average in some places! Amazing!

If you are fortunate enough to live in the western mountains of North America, you have already seen snow start to fly. Some locations have already been able to measure their bounty in feet instead of inches, even though it was short lived. As the colors change, temperatures drop, and the first flakes start to fly, so do the “seasonal” or “long range” forecasts; and with it a flurry, nah a blizzard, of speculation on what winter will bring.

Weather map
Oh oh! Look, some places are going to get more precipitation than normal and some are going to get less…

Don’t get me wrong, I like to dream about powder days and the Instagram glory that winter will bring. That said, I’m a bit over these long range forecasts and the impacts they have on the powder-hungry brain of many winter sports enthusiasts. Without fail, around this time of year you start seeing the “forecasts”; X region is high and dry, X region is wet and stormy, X region is average; blah, blah, blah.

The problem is not really the forecasts themselves, but the stock that so many of our snow-going companions put in them. One day your buddy is pumped on mountain biking (or “insert your summer sport of choice” here) and the next all they can talk about is the epic winter ahead. Worse yet, if you are truly enjoying the beautiful fall weather and scenery, do you really want to listen to some friend gripe about how this winter is going to be lame because they read some seasonal forecast produced months away from actual winter based on experimental computer models, that are about as accurate as a presidential candidate’s speech to campaign donors. No thanks.

Wait, what’s that you say, you don’t use long-range forecasts, but Mother Nature herself? Awesome, good for you. I am sure the humming birds, bees, leaf color, dirt viscosity, size of melons or cucumbers; or whatever else you are looking at are all surefire signs that we are going to have a great/crap winter. Just like, “you need to wait to swim 30 minutes after eating or you’ll get a cramp,” has always proven to be true.
Weather Map
Wow, this map looks oddly familiar. It seems that some places will be colder, and others warmer than usual.

Bottom line, for me at least; I don’t pay attention to any of this anymore. I do my best to enjoy the season I’m in; to relish the fleeting days of summer or the warm days and cool nights of fall. Winter will come one way or another. It’s going to snow, we’re going to slide on snow, and it’s going to be AWESOME!

Try not to get disappointed if you are in the “high and dry” zone; your winter could still be the deepest and coldest you have ever seen. Conversely, don’t get too fired up if you’re in the “wet and stormy” zone. The let down when your winter is “just normal” could be catastrophic on your mental health, and your friends will likely stop hanging out with you because they don’t want to hear your whining.

So I say instead of speculating and psyching yourself up or out; wax your snow sliding tools of choice, do some exercises to get yourself ready, and enjoy the season you’re in. Winter will be here soon enough, and we’ll enjoy shredding the local hills and mountains regardless of what any seasonal forecast told us.

Weather Map
“Totally booking my spring trip based on this, and it’s going to be unreal. Nothing that’s experimental was ever inaccurate…”

Of course, I’m no expert. And like your neighbor talking about his hummingbirds, I have no qualifications to make my case. But, here is some Beta from an expert who does have the qualifications, Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

“Two thoughts come to mind with regard to a long-range forecast. If the Equatorial Pacific is either very warm or very cold, we have some indication of what the winter may bring. Very warm ocean waters (El Nino) typically turn the Desert Southwest cooler and wetter and the Pacific Northwest turns warmer and drier.

Cold ocean waters (La Nina) do the opposite. The Desert Southwest turns hotter and drier and the Pacific Northwest cooler and wetter. Notice the Wasatch is in the middle and does not have much skill either way. However, some of our bigger years have occurred in extreme years with either warm or cold sea-surface temperatures. This year we’re expecting a weak La Niña, or slightly cooler-than-normal ocean waters. With a slight cooling there isn’t much skill either way with the long range forecast. Another thought is that we’re entering water year 2017, following five years of below-average snowfall. Weather likes to change after a period of persistence. And while there have been long stretches of below-average snowfall, these periods have lasted around four-to-five years before they change. Hopefully this will be the year the pattern will shift.”

All Images Provided Courtesy of NWS/NCEP Climate Predication Center

Scott House, Communications Director, Jans