2023-2024 HVW Winter Outlook

Every year as we approach the winter season, naturally our thoughts shift to, “What will this winter be like?”  It’s only natural to ask this question, because our winter season can either bring mild weather that has very little impact on our daily lives… or it can bring harsh winter storms that bring our lives to a standstill at times.  Since the weather can have significant impacts on our daily lives, we try to compile a Winter Outlook each year to project how the Hudson Valley will fare in the coming winter.  So while this year’s outlook may be a little late… the saying “Better late than never” certainly applies here.  So let’s take a look at the details…

Winter Temperatures : Near Average (-1.5° to +1.5° compared to average)

 

The strong El Nino in the Pacific Ocean is likely nearing it’s peak.  The effects of a strong el nino typically bring well above average temperatures to the northern and western part of the United States.  That’s the result of a persistent ridge in western Canada.  The strong El Nino also typically favors cooler and stormier than average conditions in the southeast US.  So our winter outlook takes those typical El Nino conditions into consideration.  However, there are several things about this winter’s setup that are not your typical El Nino setup.  That will bring a considerable amount of uncertainty to this winter’s weather.  This winter could experience a lot of extremes.  So while temperatures may be “near average”, some periods of extreme warmth and extreme cold are likely.

Winter Snowfall : Near to Above average (100% to 130% of avg) 42″ to 54″

 

El Nino winters are typically active and stormy along the eastern seaboard.  The typical storm track is further southeast due to the persistently active sub-tropical jet stream.  We expect this winter to be similar to other El Nino’s with an active sub-tropical jet.  But the other variables will add uncertainty to the winter, that could have big implications on our seasonal snowfall totals.  Snow requires 2 ingredients: Precipitation & cold air.  This winter should have plenty of access to precipitation, but the amount of cold air available is a wildcard.  Typical El Nino winters usually feature minimal cold air, but other factors this winter, like an Easterly QBO as well as the SST gradient in the Pacific Ocean, could make this winter look much different than traditional El Nino winters, and could give us above average snowfall this winter.  But the uncertainty here is quite high, because this winter’s setup is unlike any other in the past 30 years.

 

Methodology

The primary way we work through a winter outlook, is by reviewing the global SST (Sea Surface Temperatures).

 

The weather and climate cycle are driven by the transfer of heat energy.  The biggest stored source of heat on the planet is the tropical Pacific Ocean.  The heat transfer that occurs between the tropical Pacific and the atmosphere above it is the primary driver of global weather patterns.

THE BASIC CONCEPT : ENERGY TRANSFER BETWEEN FLUIDS (WATER & AIR)

Warmer waters will transfer some of their heat to the air above it.  Where the ocean temperatures are warmer than surrounding areas… the air above that warm water is likely to be warmer than air around it.  Warmer air rises, and rising air produces areas of low pressure.  And vice, versa… areas of cooler water are likely to have cooler air above it.  That cooler air falls or sinks, and sinking air produces high pressure.  So the areas of warmer and cooler ocean water, will favor areas of warmer or cooler air, which will produce areas of high or low pressure… that will determine our weather patterns.  This is the basic concept that drives our very complex weather patterns.

So having looked at our current SSTs… lets look at our forecasted SSTs for this coming winter.

 

So the very warm tropical Pacific … ‘A’… also known as an El Nino, favor a stormy and cooler subtropical region and southeastern US.  The warm water in the northeastern Pacific, ‘B’… with the cooler water just to the south, favor an area of low pressure over the Pacific, with a ridge of High pressure along the west coast of North America.

Lets look through history to find winters where similar conditions were in place (analog winters).  And based on those winters combined, lets’ see what the analog SST pattern would be for this winter…

 

Now this image is basically the top right quadrant of the ‘Sea Surface Temperature Forecast’ map above.  Notice ‘A’ is quite similar, but area ‘B’ has similarities… but also differences from what is forecast.  The reason for this, is because in the last 30 years, we have not had a SST profile quite like what we expect this year.  Even beyond the last 30 years, we have not seen an El Nino this strong, with a very warm Northeast Pacific, over top of cooler temperatures to the south.  The winters we collected were the closest to the forecast scenario.  The big factor (in our eyes) for this winter will be the warm ‘B’ area… very warm ‘A’ area… and the cooler waters in between.  This temperature gradient profile… could give us the active subtropical jet stream, as well as some periodic access to arctic air.

EASTERLY QBO

Another major factor to the winter forecast is a phenomenon known as the QBO or Quasi Biennial Oscillation.  The QBO measures the winds in the tropical stratosphere.  These winds switch direction from west to east every couple years (Quasi Biennial).  The full science for the QBO is a larger conversation… but what is important to know, is that easterly phases of the QBO often coincide with more Sudden Stratospheric warmings, weaker jet streams, and colder winters in the eastern US.  Here is the QBO over the past 30 years….

 

At the bottom right (circled in black) is the QBO currently in November 2023.   The other black circles represent all other winters that have a similar QBO, as well as an El Nino.  So this map shows all winters that have both an El Nino, as well as an easterly QBO.  Not every winter is a good match (analog) because the SST profile in other areas was different.  The 91-92, 93-94 and 06-07 winters were excluded from the analog because they were not as good of a match.  But that leaves us with our Analog winters of :
97-98 ; 02-03 ; 09-10 ; 14-15 ; and 19-20.  The blend of those winters gives us the Winter Outlook we came up with.

You can look back at the seasonal snow map to see that some really big winters…
02-03 = 81.1″ of snow ;  14-15 = 59.6″ ; 09-10 = 50.4″ ; 97-98 = 40.3″…. and a slow winter of 16″ in 19-20.
But the average snowfall of our analog years is 49.5″ and that includes the 19-20 winter… which had a more neutral QBO and weaker el nino than what we are expecting this winter.

However… you can see the wide range of results that the general setup for this winter has produced in the past.  However, none of the 5 analog years have quite the same setup.  Each was a bit different in some way.  So while we feel fairly confident with the Winter Outlook we have come up with, the potential exists for some wild swings this winter.  To help visualize the potential uncertainty… look at the month by month that our analog package comes up with.

 

 

 

 

The past similar winters featured some WILD swings from warm and wet, to frigid and snowy… and a couple of those winters, like 19-20… really tilted the scales on the warmer side.  If we removed 19-20… January looks much cooler (and March is cooler as well)

 

So there is a good deal of uncertainty and variability… but it’s also a somewhat unique setup, with certain conditions and patterns that we have seen before… but not seen them together in the same winter.  The potential surely exists for a wild winter.  It’s all going to come down to how much cold air we get access to because of the -QBO and Northern Pacific SST profile.  I guess we’ll wait and see.

Thanks so much for all your continued support!  We greatly appreciate the trust and confidence you have in what HVW does.  It is a pleasure and an honor to be such a trusted source for so many.  We look forward to keeping you a step ahead of whatever wild ride that this winter gives us.

-Alex, Bill & Todd –