Weather Outlook: Winter 2018
Heating bills are likely to be lower, while the snowfall forecast remains uncertain.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just released their Winter 2018-19 Outlook, and it favors a warmer-than-average December, January, and February for most of the U.S. That includes the upper Midwest, meaning this winter could feel very different from last winter.
“Bold North” conditions gripped our region from December 2017 through February 2018, during which temperatures averaged 1°F to 7°F below the 30-year climate average. Temperatures in the Twin Cities made 28 trips to 0°F or below (more than the 30-year average of 24 days each winter), including the coldest Super Bowl ever.
This winter doesn’t look quite so… wintry.
The culprit is El Nino -- a pattern characterized by abnormally warm water in the equatorial Pacific Ocean that changes weather downstream (including over the United States).
Currently, the water in this part of the Pacific Ocean is only slightly warmer than average; but an El Nino Watch is in effect, meaning there's a 70-75% chance that it will warm enough in the next few months to kick off El Nino.
Here in upper Midwest a strong El Nino often means a warm winter.
That's what happened in 2015-16, when Minnesota as a whole was almost 6°F above average, and the Twin Cities had it's 8th warmest winter on record.
This winter, El Nino won't be as substantial; that's why the official NOAA outlook is tilted toward a warmer-than-average winter, but not strongly.
There's still a chance that localized weather effects could block El Nino's impacts, and give us a different outcome -- but this is what's a little more likely right now.
The precipitation forecast is harder to make
During El Nino winters in the past, years of above-, below-, and near-average snowfall have all happened about equally. That makes forecasting seasonal snowfall totals difficult this year; so, the official forecast is for equal chances of all of those outcomes.
You can see the southern US has a greater chance of above average precipitation, compared to below- or near-average.
The bottom line is your heating costs will probably be a lot lower this year compared to last... but the snowblower or plow company should still be on standby.