Facebook   Twitter   Instagram
Current Issue   Archive   Donate and Support   

Cheat Sheet: Blowing in the Wind


Anyone hoping for relief from the crippling drought under a blanket of soothing, moisturizing winter snow for the next several months should prepare to be disappointed. The official winter weather outlook published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts higher than average temperatures through February over much of the Western United States, including all of Colorado. That means what snow we do get on our parched farmland is more likely to evaporate than to penetrate.

In the history of mankind, few endeavors have been as capricious as the ability to predict the weather. With modern scientific instruments, it’s become easier to do, but it’s still heavily influenced by chance and by factors that often can’t
be measured.

Take this year, for example. NOAA forecasters usually rely on the development (or absence) of the El Niño weather pattern to make temperature and precipitation predictions. El Niño influences the jet stream and can generally indicate whether or not the United States will be inundated with tropical winds and Pacific moisture. But this year, El Niño can’t make up its mind whether or not to appear.

“This is one of the most challenging outlooks we’ve produced in recent years because El Niño decided not to show up as expected,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, in an article on NOAA’s website. “In fact, it stalled out last month, leaving neutral conditions in place in the
tropical Pacific.”

So what can we expect? As much as 40 percent warmer than average temperatures in Colorado and much of the Central Plains and Midwest, cooler and wetter conditions in Florida, and pretty much an “anyone’s guess” forecast for the
East Coast.

It’s interesting to note that despite all the brainpower and technology at NOAA’s disposal, its winter outlook is not much different this year than that presented in the Farmers’ Almanac, whose long-range forecasts rely on such dubious indicators as sunspots and planetary alignment. Almanac forecasts have been retroactively studied and determined to be not much more accurate than blind luck—that may be the case this year for NOAA as well.

Leave a Reply