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National winter forecast 'no better than throwing darts'

National winter forecast 'no better than throwing darts'

Credit: Getty Images

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 28: Ice forms along the shore of Lake Michigan as temperatures hovered around -10 degrees on January 28, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. The city has had 18 days at or below zero so far this winter, two shy of the 20-day record. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

by KGW Meteorologist Rod Hill

Bio | Email | Follow: @kgwrodhill

kgw.com

Posted on February 20, 2014 at 8:50 AM

Updated Friday, Feb 21 at 2:11 AM

The temperature forecast map above was issued back in October by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center for the up-coming months of November, December and January. 

The red color indicates a forecast for above normal temperatures.  It is plain to see the how wrong the forecast turned out to be when you contrast with the actual observation map posted below, in which the blue color represents much below-normal temperatures. 

To paraphrase an article from Bloomberg Businessweek, the winter forecast was not much better than a monkey throwing darts!

We all now know, that long range forecast models failed to pick up on a strong and persistent ridge of high pressure anchored over the eastern Pacific.  The position of the high pressure area produced a southerly transport of Arctic air over the eastern United States.  Here on the west coast, the result was a blocking of storms and a near-record dry start to Portland's rainy season.  The high pressure ridge is also blamed for California's severe drought.

Over the years I have enjoyed publishing a winter forecast.  I do so, knowing that the average skill level of predicting a 3-month season is merely 15% better than pure chance.  There are strong La Nina or El Nino years when prediction skill rises, but most years the guessing work is simply trying to establish a normal, below normal or above normal forecast category. 

  The winter season we are near ending is considered to be a neutral pattern, which historically offers little clue to the outcome. I will argue even if the national weather forecast had called for below normal temperatures across the east, the true outcome of historic cold and harsh snow storms would have still been an unforeseen surprise. 

Seasonal forecast work has a long ways to advance before we really know what to expect.  Here in the Northwest, any prediction short of announcing near record dry for the combined months of October - January was of little use.  In fact, weather models did not pick up on our wet February until 7-10 days before heavy rains returned! 

If you are wondering about our spring weather to come, my answer is simply, beautiful flowers, soccer and baseball.

KGW Meteorologist Rod Hill, follow me @

www.facebook.com/kgwrodhill

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