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Climate: Is the Southwest ‘stuck’ in a drought pattern?

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NOAA’s winter outlook offers little relief for Arizona, New Mexico

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Drought conditions may persist across the southwestern U.S. this winter and may redevelop across the Southeast, according to the seasonal outlook from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

“Even though we don’t have La Niña, the atmosphere across the Pacific seems to be stuck in a La Niña mode … It’s been quite surprising to us, how persistent the pattern is,” said Mike Halpert, acting director of the Climate Prediction Center.

Parts of the Southwest, especially New Mexico, have been experiencing one of the driest periods on record, and Halpert said there is “decent agreement” in the CPC’s models on the climate signal that has resulted in the persistent trend.

Sea surface temperatures across the equatorial Pacific have been near average since spring 2012, and forecasters expect that to continue through the winter. This means that neither El Niño nor La Niña is expected to influence the climate during the upcoming winter.

Colorado falls into an area of the country where the climate signal isn’t strong enough to make a call one way or the other. That means equal chances of below-average, average or above-average precipitation this winter.

 “It’s a challenge to produce a long-term winter forecast without the climate pattern of an El Niño or a La Niña in place out in the Pacific because those climate patterns often strongly influence winter temperature and precipitation here in the United States,” Halpert said during a teleconference announcing the seasonal outlook.

“Without this strong seasonal influence, winter weather is often affected by short-term climate patterns, such as the Arctic Oscillation, that are not predictable beyond a week or two. So it’s important to pay attention to your local daily weather forecast throughout the winter.”

Areas that have better than average chances of above average precipitation include the northern Rockies, especially over Montana and northern Wyoming, as well as Hawaii.

The winter may also bring colder-than-average temperatures to the Northern Plains and the Alaskan panhandle, with above-average temperatures in the Southwest, the South-Central U.S., parts of the Southeast, New England and western Alaska.

The rest of the country falls into the “equal chance” category, meaning that there is not a strong or reliable enough climate signal in these areas to favor one category over the others, so they have an equal chance for above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures and/or precipitation.

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2 Responses

  1. […] snowpack was at 103 percent of average as of Jan. 1. The snowpack readings are also in line with seasonal forecasts from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, where experts said there were no strong signals to […]

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