Checkin’ Out the Cold: Our 2014-2015 Winter Weather Outlook

By Vernon Trollinger, December 19, 2014, Energy Efficiency, News

Checkin' Out the Cold: Our 2014-2015 Winter Weather Outlook

Wintertime El Nino Pattern image courtesy of the ENSO Blog at Climate.gov

Much of the weather forecasts for this winter have relied upon the emergence of a weak El Niño this winter. There’s just been one tiny snag.

Where’s the frackin’ El Niño!?

Most of the conditions are in place. The ENSO blog at Climate.gov sums up the situation neatly:

(1) A one-month Sea Surface Temperatures (SST) anomaly of +0.5°C or greater in the Niño 3.4 region. (check!)

(2) An expectation that the warm SSTs will meet or exceed that threshold for the next few months. (seems very likely!)

(3) An atmospheric response typically associated with El Niño. (Er… Uh… Um… Hold on a minute…)

That’s the problem — hardly any or no atmospheric component. El Niño conditions typically include reduced rainfall over Indonesia (eastern Pacific) and more rainfall over the central Pacific. There should also be some weakening of the low-level easterly winds and upper-level westerly winds (the Walker Circulation along the equator. It’s the change in the atmospheric circulation that helps moderate winter in North America. So, there are a few El Niño conditions out there such as elevated SSTs but the atmospheric conditions are absent —so there’s no El Niño. As of Dec. 15, ENSO-neutral conditions continue.

Now, while that lack of Walker Circulation may herald a typical North American winter, quixotically enough, ocean water temperatures along the west coast may be having an effect on temperatures this winter. SSTs are still warm along the west coast of North America and the Bering Sea and may have aided an anomalous ridge over western North America from mid-October into December. Or not. It’s just kind of interesting that it worked out that way without an El Niño.

Checkin' Out the Cold: Our 2014-2015 Winter Weather Outlook

Winter Temperature Outlook (2014-2015) image courtesy of ENSO Blog at Climate.gov

The Next Three Months

With or without an El Niño, the three-month forecast shows a higher probability for warmer than average temperatures in western North America and cooler than average temperatures in the south. Canadian predictions show average winter temperatures over the Maritimes and off the coast of Maine, and they also forecast a somewhat higher probability for warm temperatures extending into the central provinces.

In the US, warmer than usual temperatures are forecast along the western Alaska and west coast of the lower 48 and also in parts of New England. Equal chances for both above and below normal temperatures are forecast for the Mid-Atlantic states, the upper Midwest, and the northern plains states.

A dry pattern is expected in the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes regions, along with another one in Washington and Idaho. Below-average temperatures are more probable for the south central states with wetter than average conditions stretching from the East Coast and along the southern tier clear on over to California. These conditions are expected to remain more or less the same until diminishing through spring.

Yes, there will likely be cold snaps. The likelihood of sudden stratospheric warming (SSW) (which causes polar vortex shifting like earlier in 2014) is thought to be low for the rest of December 2014. However, they are more common in January, so there will likely be increased chances for Arctic weather intrusions in the new year — keep your heavy coats and gloves where you can get them. Thankfully, the bitter and sustained cold from Winter 2013-2014 is thought to be unlikely.

While we may not see as much cold weather as last year, we will definitely see some. So, if you’re on a variable or month-to-month electricity plan, you might see some high bills. Generator fuels — like natural gas — will be sensitive to the mere whisper of cold weather, particularly in New England and New York. It’s a good idea to have a fixed-rate electricity plan in place before electricity prices surge much higher this year.

If you’ve just signed on to a new variable-rate or month-to-month plan with a low introductory rate, then you should seriously consider shopping around right now for a longer commitment to shield you from nervous market uncertainty. Whether you want a long-term solution or short-term stability with flexibility in the Spring, we recommend you secure a competitively priced, fixed-rate plan to avoid expensive winter surprises.

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About 

A native of Wyomissing Hills, PA, Vernon Trollinger studied writing and film at the University of Iowa, later earning his MA in writing there as well. Following a decade of digging in CRM archaeology, he now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, DIY projects, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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