Winter 2017/2018 Outlook

By Paul Huntington

What is next Winter going to bring to the mid latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere and how are the large planetary waves going to behave? Planetary waves are the oscillations in the jet stream around the mid latitudes (Westerlies) that bring either high pressure (ridging) or low pressures (troughing) in the atmosphere and behave much different than the low pressures around the equator that form more from very warm ocean surface water and air condensing into water vapor/clouds and large cumulus thunderstorms/cyclones that create a feedback loop called the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO), this reverberant affect propagates eastward around the equatorial world kind of like a stack of dominoes folding upon one another. It is very hard to predict when and where it might find a comfortable region stalling out and influencing the Northern Hemispheres Jet stream dynamics but seems to be acting up recently and could be a major player in the extension of the Asia Pacific Jet stream which could mean large mild/warm low pressure systems hitting the mid latitudinal regions of the North American West coast.
Tropical Pacific Sea Surface Temperatures Animation

Wondering if the Winter is going to be hot or cold dry or wet is something almost everyone asks at one point throughout the year and even some like me ask two or three years prior! Well here is what's going on at the moment with the complex teleconnective variables on, above, and outside our earth and this will change but is appearing toward reinforcing the following dipole/oscillation phases in the global oceans.

  1. Warm phase North Pacific Decadal Oscillation meaning warmer water in the East side of basin and cooler in West (It has been warming in west recently but should be short lived?)
  2. Negative phase Indian Ocean Dipole or warm water in East off Sumatra Indonesia and cooler off Africa 
  3. Active Madden Julian Oscillation with quick propagating time due to average equatorial temperatures
  4. Neutral sea surface temperatures in Equatorial Pacific Ocean
  5. Low sun spot phase or incoming solar radiation levels supporting warm polar regions
  6. High pressure over Bering sea and the Icelandic low further west than normal
  7. Azores high weak in North Atlantic
  8. Positive Pacific North America pattern
  9. Active Davidson current (warm southerly flowing coastal ocean current during November to late February) surfacing off West Coast from Baja up to Eureka California.
  10. Anomalously warm sea surface temperatures North and West of Hawaii.

So what the heck can all this mean? That's a darn good question and one that we can only make a hypothesis on with no El Nino /Southern Oscillation values supporting a pattern along with so many complex variables and sometimes you have to go with intuitive feelings bit like an old ancient Indian Chief would do. He would have said something like this at the foothills of Yosemite to describe the Sierras moving out of the long drought of 2011-2015 -"48 moons barely no water from sky, changes begin around 40th moon cycle with more white skies (clouds) and moisture air when equal light and dark days after short suns, long suns bring more change with more water from white skies, next short suns will be much different then last 48 moons."

What I mean by this Indian quote is how the older civilizations predicted weather by close observation and changes with the sun angle and what the Indian had observed was the Madden Julian Oscillation firing back up in the West Pacific in March 2015 (equinox) in tremendous fashion after a slow three year hiatus. This hyperactive episode triggered the super El Nino of 2015-2016 and increased the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone thunderstorm activity to start moving heat and moisture poleward away from the warm equatorial oceans and continues to do so at the present.

However, this is one of those years that even the old wise Indian Chief would have a hard time deciding when retreating to the lowlands was necessary prior to the Winter Snows. After such an extreme run of weather it would make sense the system stabilizes meaning an average Winter for once and that's what I'm predicting is going to happen this year. This average Planetary/Rossby wave sinuosity I'm talking about-and remember this is fantasy prediction stuff that should be taken very lightly but if starts matching up by late December could be worth checking back on to see where we might be headed-would mean five or six cycles of storms with three or four storms ranging in strength embedded within each cycle, however, the first storm in mid October will probably just be one fairly wet warm storm. The climatology from how the jet stream is taking shape would suggest those cycles of storms occur around early/mid October (possible extra tropical typhoon remnant low), Mid November, Early/Mid December, Beginning January (biggest storm of year with atmospheric river), Early/Mid February (medium storm and another atmospheric river), Middle March, and April windy and cool. Temperature wise the storms should be fairly mild with a lot of Sierra Cement with the coldest low pressures mid Winter when typically they are bringing the best snow of the season. Moreover, the ridging between the lows should be strong with above average daytime temperatures and cold dry nights as the rex or omega block shunts the storms up into Alaska and Northern Canada. This strong blocking will be undercut around the beginning of January as the North Atlantic Oscillation and Arctic Oscillation swing negative simultaneously as the polar vortex bulges outward from the warm upper troposphere and sinking stratospheric heat. This wobbly unstable polar vortices will be the main player in the jet stream pathway and not so much the equatorial sea surface temperatures. In addition, the phase of the Pacific North America Pattern (PNA) is showing a comfortable flow from the southern periphery off warmer Asian air masses as it enters the North Pacific and as I mentioned the MJO phase and level of activity could have major impacts on the strength/moisture level of the Asian Pacific Jet stream, how extended it can become and linking up with lows in the Central North Pacific. This is very similar to last years pattern but I don't see us having as many atmospheric rivers but more typical occluded (mix cold and warm air) storms that rotate through and drop couple feet of snow over a more broad area. This prediction is based on the sea surface temperatures not being as warm Southeast of Hawaii this Winter but that can change and something to keep an eye on.

Lastly this is going to be an extremely interesting Winter to observe and watch unfold and I say this due to us not having anything to compare it to, no strong El Nino indices, and after such a bizarre wet Winter last year. Our climate system seems to be reaching a tipping point as the oceans absorb and mitigate 50 years of building up Carbon Dioxide and other greenhouse gases. This earths history shows it has been warmer with much higher sea levels for most of its existence and if it wants to start tipping that direction it could be at an astounding pace and one that no one could have predicted. Let's hope our humanity and our earth can co exist and get a grasp on our carbon footprint! The time is NOW to go green with your energy, buy a hybrid or electric car, eat vegetarian one or two days a week, and educate your children about having a light footprint while living on Planet Earth!

cheers and should be a Fun Winter,

Paul Huntington