January 12, 2016

The Winter So Far

We are now roughly mid-winter and thus can gain a bit of perspective regarding the nature of the season.

Over the western U.S (see below).,  temperatures during the past two months have generally been slightly below normal over most of the western U.S., which is very different than the unusual warmth of last year.

For precipitation, western Washington has been much wetter than normal, but the rest of the west has been generally near normal.

To get a better idea of timing, here are the temperatures and precipitation at Seattle over the past 12 weeks, with normal values shown.  Seattle has had warm and cool periods, but on average, quite normal.
 For precipitation, there were extended wet and dry periods.  Middle to the end of December was super wet, and we have been very dry for the first part of January.  For the overall period, about 6 inches more than normal.
 Turning to Pasco, in central eastern WA, temperatures were near normal.
while precipitation was close to normal for the entire period.
Bottom line: On both sides of the Cascades, a very different than last year, which was warmer and drier.

Looking forward for the rest of the winter, we should experience the influence of a powerful El Nino, with the heaviest precipitation heading into California, leaving Washington modestly drier than normal.  The latest 10 day total precipitation forecast from the National Weather Service GFS model, shown below, predicts a wet period for the west coast, with very heavy precipitation (15 inches!) over central/northern CA.  This period should have a major impact on reservoirs and could potentially lead to localized flooding in northern CA.

I should note there is plenty of evidence of the El Nino associated split flow, which was discussed in a previous blog.  Here is an example in the 500 hPa upper level forecast for Saturday afternoon.

Regarding snow, the next 72 h should bring modest freshening of snow to the Northwest, but heavy snow over the Sierra:

The bottom line is that this winter is radically different than last year so far, without the extreme heat and snowpack drought of last year.


  1. Temperatures “slightly below normal” and precipitation “much wetter than normal” for Seattle.

    So then, so far, pretty much the exact opposite of the much hyped NOAA and DOE fall/winter forecasts and discussion, published last Sept/ Oct, of continued dry and above normal temps for Washington.

    Is there any accountability when forecasts are this far off? And I don’t mean the obvious review of what went wrong. I mean the hype that went along with them (I have multiple examples and Cliff, you yourself hit the nail on the head when you called out the DOE – twice).

    I would like to know how a miss of this level is even remotely considered ok.

    1. You can't deem any forecast a miss (or a hit) until the forecasted event/season is past.

  2. Cliff, would you please consider mentioning this upcoming event on your blog:

    Weather and Climate: A Puget Sound Perspective
    Saturday, Jan 16, 2-4pm, Mukilteo Library
    Here in the Puget Sound region, perched as we are on the western edge of a continent with a massive ocean to our west and 2 significant mountain ranges nearby, we have many unique weather and climate features, beginning with the interactions of solar energy with water and with land, and the variables in these interactions that are created by the seasons. In this class we will explore the most important details of our local weather, including how the Convergence Zone generates our unique weather systems. Presented by Linda Khandro.
    Mukilteo Library is located at 4675 Harbour Pointe Blvd, Mukilteo, WA 98275
    Phone: 425-493-8202

    Thank you,

    Ruth Griffith
    Sno-Isle Libraries, Mukilteo Library
    4675 Harbour Pointe Blvd
    (425) 493-8202, x.3233

  3. sunsnow12. Couldn't agree more. NOAA is not very good anymore, just plain bad frankly. But they are not the only ones. I have seen many winter forecasts that have been downright bad. People issuing forecasts very prematurely in Sept/Oct/Nov and never updating them. The cold has been stronger and the ridiculous amount of storms in the PACNW is getting old. Maybe there are some snow lovers, but I am not one of them. And if any of those snowlovers actually had to get out there and work in the mess that all these storms have created, they would think twice about ever loving snow again.

    And I agree, there needs to be some accountability and running off old information from Sept/Oct is so flawed. The weather is constantly in motion and if you are not keeping up, your models are going to suffer and thus.....predictions.

  4. Seems pretty wet out there to me. El Nino be damned.

  5. I recorded a total of 48 inches of rain in 2015 at my house on the Bothell Mill Creek line. Not exactly a drought year. But the precip distribution and unusual summer heat gave us our fire issues.

  6. My tipping bucket recorded 1.28 inches of rain since yesterday (01/12/2016) and my current rain rate is at 0.22 inches per hour. Late last night with the warm front the temperature rose to 49F, after the cold front passed it dropped to 43F.

    As I wrote a couple months ago, every El Nino event is unique plus this one is complicated by historically high global ocean temperatures. There are general characteristics that are oommon to El Ninos but the details vary.

    Late last December a storm called "Frank" helped to push warm air all the way to the North Pole where a buoy recorded a temperature of +33F (Seawater freezes at 28F). It displaced the Arctic air. It had to go someplace. So we watched the Sea Hawks play the Vikings in sub-zero weather while many parts of Minnesota had just experienced a record warm December.

    As I understand it, this El Nino was warmest in the central Pacific (western portion of Nino 3.4). I seem to recall that a past El Nino like this dumped heavy rains in central America and mostly by-passed California. It's still early. Let's hope the big rains and snows return to central California and leave us dryer with average temps.

    I don't cite NOAA for a blown El Nino forecast. The Pacific ocean is huge with a paucity of reporting stations. It is a strong El Nino. It has produced record warmth and rains. So we got some extra rain and cold in western Washington, big deal.

    Lots of unusual weather events happening. Below are some excerpts from WU regarding global weirdness.

    the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the gates on the Bonnet Carré Spillway in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana to allow flood waters from the swollen Mississippi River to flow into Lake Pontchartrain. This is the earliest that the Corps has been forced to open the spillway, and just the 11th time since it became operational in 1931 that it has been used.

    a powerful nontropical low is stirring up the waters east of Bermuda with a large area of strong winds, some as high as 75 mph (Category 1 hurricane-force!) Models continue to move this system toward the southeast and then east this week, which could put it in a more favorable environment for subtropical development. Ocean temperatures are at near-record warm levels for this time of year in the waters east of Bermuda (about 3 - 4°F above average)

    The earliest tropical storm on record in the Central Pacific, Tropical Storm Pali, had 50 mph winds on Sunday evening as it meandered over the waters about 1,450 miles southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii. Pali is not a threat to any land areas.

    The nation’s mildest and wettest December in more than a century of record-keeping.
    The combination of unusual warmth and unusual moisture is a standout in itself. Heavy, persistent precipitation often means lots of sun-blocking clouds that cut down on heating. Very warm months are typically the driest ones. That was the case in June 1933 and May 1934, two Dust Bowl months that still reign as the warmest and driest May and June in U.S. history

    During the nine-day period from December 23 to 31, the lowest temperature observed in Key West, Florida, was 78°F. This happens to be the previous record-warm minimum for the entire month of December, going back to 1871! This is the first time I’ve heard of any U.S. location with more than a century of weather-observing history that managed to tie or set a monthly record on so many consecutive days. Key West’s daily lows were an astounding 79°F on December 25, 27, 28, 29, and 31. Finally, on January 3, the mercury dropped below 69°F, for the first time since April 1--making it the longest such streak at or above 69°F (277 days) in Key West history.

  7. @sunsnow12

    NOAA's winter outlook issued in mid-October did not "hype" weather being drier than normal for this area. The map at the link below show they said we could have "above-, below-, or near-normal precipitation".

    And as far as "accountability", the NOAA maps provide percentage probabilities for the predictions. If the observed weather in a given region is different than predicted it doesn't mean the prediction was wrong. It just means that the observed weather had a low probability of occurring based on what was know at the time of the prediction.

    And as @Colleen points out above, we are only halfway through the period covered in their predictions.


  8. jno62: Yep, this is what I am talking about. We don't need anymore catastrophic storms that have caused massive damage and flooding and holdups on I90, etc. I have no clue if El Nino is driving this wet mess, or if something else is going on. I personally think all this moisture is a result of the intense heat, of the last year, the intense El Nino and the blob. Shedding that energy back into the atmosphere and it is getting picked up by the jet stream.

    Colleen: I am not saying the season is completely off with NOAA, or others. But it is completely illogical to use data from the summer to make a winter forecast when the Pacific is constantly changing, and temps changing in the El Nino region....all the time. Just very flawed and if you look at the December prediction, it was quite off on NOAA. And I keep saying NOAA as I have believed for a long time they are the most accurate, but I am not sure anymore. I know some other meteorologists, that I interact with online, that don't like NOAA these days. Saying their predictions stink, but they are a gold mine for data.

  9. Obviously two major things not predicted. Although it should be noted that there is always a proviso that those predictions are probabilistic.

    December normally dries up from November. Not so this season.

    El Nino normally sees weather dryer after the beginning of the year. Although every forecaster I read did note that not only was this probabilistic, but also that the very strongest El Ninos could hold surprises in store for us.

  10. El Ninos consistently fire up later in the winter. Be thankful for the mountain snow and lowland rain. Not sure why people are complaining. Tipical Northwesterns, always complaining, "it's too wet, it's too hot, it's too cold, it's too dry"! Best weather in the world! Get over it or move on out!

  11. John –

    A prediction is wrong when it is wrong. People make decisions based on these forecasts. Behavior is altered. The media spin them. If NOAA does not want accountability for it, then please don’t make the prediction.

    The maps on the link you provide show the entire state of Washington in the dark brown “Drought: Continue or Worsen” category; the highest gradient for warming; and 70% of the state in the “drier than normal” territory.

    As to the period not being over:

    Fall is in the books. The prediction of “the likelihood of above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation from October through February” (S. Times 9/23, w/ quotes from DOE) includes October and November. That was amplified by the DOE in their non-stop claims of drought even when it was pouring across the state. Cliff covered this in his 11/19/15 post.

    In addition, as measured at Seatac, the central measuring station for our region: the cumulative water year (beginning Oct. 1) precip of 26.09” today is at mid-March levels. So Seattle could be dry for the next two months straight and it would remain a certainty that we will be above normal in Seattle for cumulative precip for the Oct-Feb period.

    Forecasting is not perfect. But the public deserves better than this.

  12. Sunsnow

    The public also deserves better predictions on the stock market, NFL games and the probability that a marriage will not end in divorce. They won't get those due to the stochasticity inherent in the factors predicting those outcomes.

    We live in an uncertain world and I have no reason to think that those who predict the weather would provide anything less than their "best guess" using the tools and information available to them - nor do I think the government would hire or tolerate people who would put forth deceptive weather predictions.

    Your comments imply that there is a better prediction out there than the ones provided by NOAA and DOE. Please post a link and to the "better" predictions you think the public deserves and we can see which prediction is most accurate.

  13. John -

    How about right here on this blog? Cliff wasn't calling for "Drought: Continue or Worsen". Nor was he saying things like "Right now, nature seems upside down".

    Instead, he was saying: "I really worry that some of the media and in political circles are going too far in painting an end of the world picture for next year. Crying wolf undercuts credibility."

    There it is in a nutshell for me.

  14. sunsnow12

    Cliff doesn't provide large-scale long-term forecasts on this blog so I am not sure what you are suggesting - but if you do know of a better more accurate long-term forecast than what NOAA provides you do need to paste a link in a future comment.

    With regard to the drought and how it is portrayed, I give Cliff a lot of credit for changing the title of his post on the drought in California after a number of people pointed out that while things may be wetter for awhile the California drought is far from over - as his initial blogpost title implied.

    And also see below


  15. Regarding forecasts; all week, up to last night, Seattle Weather Forecast (your link) said today would be cloudy. Except all day it was bright and sunny; I could see clear mtns all the way to the Canadian borders.

    Is it fair to dismiss the industry when even next day forecasts are (badly) off? Or maybe its the time granularity that your industry fails on, that is, good on some 30 day out view, but pretty erratic on any 1/30 of a month..?

  16. I think that the accountability needs to happen for NOAA, TWC, and whoever else is throwing out the crazy seasonal predictions. I think in the winter, 3 days is about as far out as you can trust, because of all the variables involved in winter. It is rather illogical to even make a forecast for a month or a season, it will usually be wrong. Now in summertime I think you can predict much easier around here. Generally high pressure sets in, and it is hot; not too hard to predict there. But with all the energy and moisture moving around the pacific ocean right now, prediction seems to be suffering.

    The only thing NOAA might have correct is the higher temps, as it slowly seems to be turning for the warm around here. But the precipitation forecast is so wrong, it is not even funny. I do think the whole state is going to dry out come February, and be much warmer, but again, we shall have to wait and see.


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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