Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Was Last Winter Really The Worst In Years?

 ...It depends how you define "worst winter in years."

Most of us define past winters using four metrics:  Average Winter Temperature (Dec through February), Seasonal snowfall, Number of nights at or below zero and the number of days with snow on the ground greater than one inch (how often does the snow cover the grass).

I revisit this topic because we will air our Winter Weather Outlook Thursday, October 30th at 10PM. Invariably, everyone is comparing this upcoming winter to last year's rough winter.  If we only had longer weather memories, we'd soon realize that last winter was comparable with winters in the early 2000s both in snowfall and in temperature. 

* Was last winter a rough one?  Certainly. 

* Were the temperatures extreme?  Only the night time lows (6 nights below zero in January, 4 in February--3 were records). 

* Did we break snowfall records?  Nope. Not even close. More snow fell in the winters of 2002, 2003 and 2004.

The graphics below tell the story perfectly.





Friday, October 24, 2014

How Are Winter Outlooks Different Than Day-to-Day Forecasts?

Our WJW FOX8 Winter Outlook will air on Thursday, October 30th. Not long after, comments and criticism will start pouring stating in part that we should concentrate on getting the daily forecasts right rather than trying to forecast the weather months out. This isn't new. It happens after each seasonal outlook. Unfortunately, this common comparison is far from accurate and much more complicated than most of us realize.

Actual day to day weather forecasts are developed with analyzing current conditions, radar, satellite and other parameters to make a forecast for a short period of time in the future. 12 Hours, 24 hours, 36 hours, 48 hours. We utilize computer model projections as guidance. These projections are getting better as more data is utilized and assimilated into faster and faster computers. Computer projections are great but they still have their limitations. This is why its important for the meteorologist to determine which projection or combination of projections are accurate. Forecast accuracy continues to climb over the years. The lead time before tornado events has increased significantly saving many lives over the last decade.

Seasonal long range outlooks (winter weather forecasts) are created by looking at the ocean sea surface temperature patterns to include the north Pacific Ocean, the tropical Pacific Ocean (ENSO - two types of El Nino, neutral or La Nina), pressure patterns over the Arctic and North Atlantic, solar cycles, stratospheric wind behavior (QBO) and other longer term variables.  The elements just mentioned are matched up with other years of occurrence.  A best possible seasonal fit is created by "weighing" certain variables higher than others. Sometimes this works out well.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  I've learned a great deal about these variables and how they effect the overall pattern. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not the best. Other meteorologists with far more experience are excellent at determining, weighing and piecing together the years that best fit. Their livelihood depends on it.

To reiterate, the Analog Method is a trend outlook and not for a specific forecast for a specific day. Individual storms cannot be seen this far out. Forecasts for specific days? Forget it. There is too much randomness in the atmosphere that's way beyond our abilities to model accurately. However, by looking at parameters that existed in the past during other storm events, we can say that the chance of a big east coast snow storm is greater or less than in years past. 

For most people, all of these forecasts and trend outlooks are lumped into one group even though each are derived using entirely different information. I get it. Its human nature to generalize and simplify complicated subjects like the science of weather prediction. We formulate concrete, black and white, overly scaled down versions of the weather.  Whether its a long range winter outlook, a climate average for a wedding day, the thunderstorm chances for later this afternoon, lake effect snowfall amounts or a hurricane forecast track, its all the same weather animal to most. We subconsciously eliminate the nebulous science, weird looking equations and fancy internet computer animations in favor of a narrative that tells a better story.  In short, The Old Farmers’ Almanac fits with how our brains are wired.  Its simple. Its folksy with just enough science to make it credible.  Why do we continue believing the Old Farmers’ Almanac?  The simple answer is it makes us feel good!

While I love the Old Farmers Almanac for its articles, I'd trust an actual Meteorologist's forecast first.  I wouldn't dismiss the scientific explanation, ignore the random changes and replace them with the Old Farmers Almanac figuring that its more accurate.  The results are usually disappointing.

So remember that Winter Weather Outlooks are by their very nature formulated differently than day-to-day forecasts.  Let's sit back and see if this winter will behave like we think it will.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

A Cold/Snowy Winter Coming? Here's A Sneak Peak

Before I go any further, let me make the same declaration I've made in the past shortly before and after we debut any seasonal outlook:  Do not project a seasonal outlook over a specific day in that season! The variables that are used in creating a seasonal outlook are entirely different than what is used to develop a daily forecast. Its a classic "apples to oranges" comparison. Please, head over to my past blog post and read this before you proceed. It will make me feel better :)

Difference Between Day-to-day forecasts and Seasonal Outlooks

This winter outlook sneak peak only takes into account a few variables.  (The rest are a part of our secret recipe written on a spiral notebook buried in the FOX8 front yard)  These "few variables" reside in and over the Pacific Ocean.  Take a look at the sea surface temperatures on October 8th.  I circled the regions we've kept an eye on since mid summer.
I will spare you the reasons why these locations are least for now.  Note that the warmer water in the Gulf of Alaska, the warmer water off the west coast, the cooler pocket of water east of Japan and the weak central based El Nino (Modoki) are all taken into account. When we match up these areas of concern with other years that are similar, we get this analog for the winter months of December through February.

Again, this is an outlook over a 90 day period not a specific day-to-day forecast.

This points to a colder than normal East Coast, Great Lakes and Deep South. The temperature legend is below.

Last year, the core of the cold was centered in the middle of the US. This winter, the core of the cold looks to shift more east and south.

Thursday, October 02, 2014



Current OHIO temperatures

Current Ohio Valley radar loop
Central Great Lakes sector loop

Temperature forecast for this afternoon...70s...dropping into the 50s...40s by early morning.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

HUGE changes Friday & Saturday

Welcome to October.

The deeper we go into October, the possibility of more drastic the day-to-day weather changes increases. The next few days are a prime example.

Central Great Lakes sector loop

High temperatures Friday could push into the 70s before the cold front move through.

Friday's Temperatures
Widespread rain and storms Friday afternoon with scattered storms Friday evening for high school football.

Wind gusts could reach 40+ mph along the front late Friday state wide.

 ...then the big drop Saturday across the midwest and Great Lakes.

Saturday's Temperatures
Look how the flood gates open up as the jet stream buckles across the lakes keeping temps in the 50s through early next week.

It won't be long now before I will need to reference my LAKE EFFECT SNOW EVENTS book!