Preseason weather maps seem to circulate on the Internet as fast as news of Shaun White’s arrest, but not all of the maps tell a complete story.
“It’s not like forecasting tomorrow’s high temperature,” says Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate prediction center.
The Administration, NOAA, only forecasts weather three months out—because, it says, any further drastically decreases the accuracy.
And, so far, this winter is looking even harder to predict than past seasons because the U.S. is dangling on the edge of El Nino, but it’s still unknown.
If El Nino takes hold and is strong enough to influence weather behavior, Halpert says it could mean warmer and drier Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies regions and a wetter, cooler south.
As for the middle of the country (west to east), it’ll be about average if El Nino sticks around, says Leslie Wanek, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Utah.
And out East? Halpert says the Appalachian Mountains often do well if El Nino takes hold, and some of the big historic snowstorms in the region have occurred during a weak El Nino year.
Regionally, Halpert says, if the West gets snow early, it often translates to a colder season with more snowy days, but admits that isn’t always the case. There are other factors that play into national weather too—such as arctic oscillation.
In the first half of September the arctic oscillation—an atmospheric phenomenon that can change every couple weeks—was positive (think warm), but Halpert says it’s swinging to neutral for the next couple weeks. Beyond that is near impossible to predict, he says.
That’s part of the reason last year’s La Nina didn’t match the prior year’s La Nina—because the arctic oscillation was positive for part of the season unlike the year before.
Still, despite the weather maps floating around the Internet, Halpert and Wanek say it’s hard to predict more than a few months out—currently to the end of the year. And it’s in the early part of the year when weather can be more impacted.
“January, February, March is really when you see the impacts of what an El Nino or La Nina weather pattern will do,” Wanek says.