There’s drama unfolding in the predictions for this upcoming winter. In one corner, you have Farmers’ Almanac (not to be confused with Old Farmers’ Almanac) and their forecast of icy doom for the nation’s meaty section. (In other words, the area between the two major mountain ranges – Rockies and Appalachians. The coasts are the bread; the mid-section is the meat, etc. It’s hilarious, I know.) In another corner, you have the National Weather Service and their mild forecast (for the 5th year in a row, I think) thanks to what they believe is a developing El Nino in the Pacific. Somewhere between them, perhaps refereeing the bout, is Accuweather’s Joe Bastardi, who published a winter outlook back in July.
The Farmers’ Almanac (which is available in stores as of today) is predicting “bitterly cold” conditions for the western Great Lakes region and “very cold and snowy” conditions for the Rockies, Central Plains and Midwest. In addition, they predict below normal temperatures for the Northwest and Northeast. Only the Southwest and Southeast are expected to be mild.
So, how do they come to this conclusion? Well, naturally, that’s a secret. All we know is the Farmers’ Almanac (much like Old Farmers’ Almanac, which also keeps its’ forecasting science a secret) uses solar activity and planetary positioning, as well as weather patterns, to help create their forecast. NOAA and the National Weather Service generally rely on weather patterns and teleconnections – El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) to name a few – when making their forecasts. They generally don’t believe that conditions outside the planet Earth contribute much to changes in weather patterns.
As a result of the El Nino (albeit a weak one) brewing in the Central Pacific Ocean, the National Weather Service is forecasting a mild winter for much of the US, especially those most prone to harsh winters in the Midwest and Central Plains. Only the southeast is forecast to be below normal during the Dec-Jan-Feb period. This is, of course, in direct contrast to the forecast made by the Farmers’ Almanac. Keep in mind the above graphs are not necessarily the true Winter Outlook from NOAA. They usually issue a press release with more fancy graphics later in the year. Still, this is probably a good barometer for what their forecast will be given the CPC is part of NOAA.
If you’re looking at factors influencing the weather outside of the planet, look no further than the Sun. It’s been fairly quiet over the past couples years as it entered the minimum in its’ current cycle. There’s just one problem – it might not have come out of that minimum just yet. If it has, it’s really dragging its’ solar feet in the process.
I don’t want to get into a discussion of solar science and its’ relationship to Earth’s weather and climate. Still, take a look at this article comparing solar cycles and Fall/Winter conditions in the US. Then, note that it supports part of the Farmers’ Almanac forecast and contrasts part of it as well. Finally, realize we don’t completely understand the Earth’s weather, climate, and all the factors that may influence them.
When the Winter of 2009-10 is complete, we can look back and see who was right. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make them right next year. Yet, maybe we can start getting an idea of the Sun’s influence on Earth’s weather. Does El Nino and a warmer winter come to pass or does a quiet Sun over multiple years and a colder winter set in? Surely one winter season will not settle any debate and we can’t prove the El Nino or Sun was the dominating factor. But I can guarantee you this – it will start a debate. And considering the Farmers’ Almanac outlook is in direct contrast to NOAA’s outlook, we should be able to declare who was more accurate.