Shivers Ahead

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , Ag Meteorologist Emeritus
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Cold weather patterns are predicted for parts of the U.S. in the 2018–19 winter season, Image by Getty Images

The 2018–19 winter season forecast offers a little bit for everyone. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center (CPC) calls for above-normal temperatures over the majority of the contiguous U.S., with “equal chances” for above-, normal or below-normal temperatures elsewhere. The CPC forecast also features drier conditions over the northern U.S. and above-average precipitation across the southern tier of states, including the very-dry southwestern U.S.

Driving the NOAA CPC forecast is the expectation of a weak El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean, where sea surface temperatures are warm enough to influence the U.S. winter season. That call is not universal, including at DTN/The Progressive Farmer. Our forecast is cold for most of the central and eastern U.S. This departure has to do with how the weak El Niño influence is factored into the forecast.

Our forecast looks for very little of this influence. A weak El Niño increases the risk for cold-temperature intrusions during the winter. We looked at similar years which largely featured a weak El Niño in place, including: 1968–69; 1977–78; 1994–95; 2003–04; and 2009–10. There were, indeed, some cold winters in this array of seasons.

Well-known weather agencies in the European Union and the United Kingdom are closer to the DTN/The Progressive Farmer viewpoint than they are to the NOAA forecast. Looking ahead to the winter, here is a regional rundown:

MIDWEST: Frequent periods of cold temperatures are featured, with periodic cold waves likely. Precipitation will be variable. The northern Midwest is likely to see a snowier winter, and the Great Lakes are in line for enhanced lake-effect snow. Spring fieldwork would face a slow start.

NORTHERN PLAINS: A colder, snowier winter is in store and will likely last into March. Snow will help to curb lingering dryness in the region. A slower start to spring fieldwork is likely, and cold periods will be stressful to livestock.

SOUTHERN PLAINS: A noted departure in our forecast compared with the CPC outlook is in the Southern Plains. Our call is for a winter season with frequent cold waves and reduced precipitation. The dominance of colder air pushes the storm track into the Gulf Coast; thus, southern Texas may see increased rain. Lower precipitation overall implies limited snow cover for the region’s winter wheat, as well.

SOUTHWEST: The Southwest has mostly above-normal temperatures, with periods of storms. Overall precipitation, however, is not looking very promising. This is a noted difference between our forecast and the NOAA CPC forecast. Drought relief in the region, especially for the Colorado and Rio Grande valleys, will be minimal.

DELTA: A cold and mostly dry winter is forecast, another point of difference with the CPC. The best chance for precipitation is along the Gulf Coast. Cold waves lasting well into the latter part of the winter season suggest some threat to produce crops next March and possibly into April.

SOUTHEAST: The majority of the region is in line for a colder-than-normal and drier-than-normal winter season. The best chance for precipitation is along the Gulf Coast and through Florida. Late-winter cold and storm systems are also indicated for the coastal areas of the Carolinas and Virginia.

NORTHEAST: Sustained cold temperatures are indicated, with a wide variety of precipitation totals. Western sectors are in line for heavy lake-effect snow off the Great Lakes. Coastal locales have the prospect of nor’easters, notably in the latter portion of the season. Interior areas have a cold and dry forecast. Spring will take its time showing up.

FAR WEST: As with the Southwest, temperatures have an above-normal trend, but precipitation is not a guarantee. The highest likelihood for an appreciable round of moisture is in southern California. Atmospheric rivers bringing heavy snowfall to the Sierra Nevada mountains is questionable.

NORTHWEST: The Northwest has a seasonable prospect for both temperatures and precipitation. Along with the Southern Plains and the Southwest, the moisture chances in our forecast are much different than the NOAA CPC outlook. Wintertime precipitation would be well-received, following the development of severe to extreme drought during the late summer through autumn time frame.

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