Winter 2023/2024 snowfall predictions show increased snowfall potential. We are seeing increased snowfall potential across the United States and Canada, but a weak snow outlook in Europe. We will look at the latest Full snowfall forecasts and trends, with March data now also available.
It is well known by now that a strong El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean is expected to play a large role in the upcoming Winter. First, we will quickly look at the current state of El Niño and how it is expected to evolve as we head into the next year.
Then, looking at the global long-range weather forecasting systems and historical data analysis, you will see the snowfall predictions for the upcoming Winter and how they are changing as we get closer to Winter, with the forecast accuracy now also starting to increase.
GLOBAL SEASONAL WEATHER INFLUENCE
ENSO is short for “El Niño Southern Oscillation.” This region of the equatorial Pacific Ocean changes between warm and cold phases. Typically, there is a phase change around every 1-3 years.
We are currently in a warm ENSO phase called El Niño. It will be at peak strength during the Northern Hemisphere Winter season, changing the weather patterns worldwide.
ENSO significantly influences tropical rainfall, pressure patterns, and the complex ocean and atmosphere exchange. We can observe large-scale pressure changes in the tropics with each new developing phase. These changes affect weather circulation over the rest of the world with some delay.
As you can see in the image above, a warm ENSO phase creates lower pressure than normal over the central and eastern Pacific Ocean and higher pressure in the west.
By doing this, it significantly alters the atmosphere-ocean feedback system. This feedback system spreads the ENSO influence globally, especially the Winter temperature and snowfall patterns.
You can see the El Niño in NOAA’s latest ocean anomaly analysis below. It is an area of above-normal ocean temperatures across the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Peak ocean temperature anomalies are reaching more than 5 degrees Celsius above normal.
El Niño usually forms during weak trade winds, which can tell us much about the state of global circulation. This way, we can use these ocean temperature anomalies as a warning light on the dashboard of a car.
The change between a warm and cold phase can be sudden in some cases. We produced a special video animation to help you understand how ocean anomalies evolve in the ENSO regions. It shows the ocean surface anomalies from late Winter to Summer.
The cold phase of the ENSO, called La Niña, quickly broke down over the Winter, with warmer anomalies emerging in early Spring. Notice the motion of the anomalies on the ocean surface, driven by the trade winds.
You can see just how fast the ocean anomalies transitioned from a cold La Niña phase and started showing an active warm El Niño signature.
ENSO WINTER FORECAST
Below, we have an IRI forecast probability image, which shows the long-range outlook of the central ENSO region. As forecasted, the El Niño conditions will last during Winter and early Spring. A weakening of the El Niño is expected during Spring, with an interesting development towards Summer.
Looking at the extended seasonal ENSO forecast from ECMWF, you can see the ensemble consensus for a strong El Niño event, peaking around +2 above normal. You can see very interesting development over the 2024 year, with a very poor consensus on the next Autumn.
Some scenarios show a continuation of the El Niño, most go into a neutral zone around zero, and some even go for a new cold La Niña phase. This is going too far into the future to be important at the present time, but it is interesting to see the long-term evolution, as our weather depends on it.
So, what exactly does this mean for the winter weather patterns and snowfall potential in the 2023/2024 Winter? To answer that, we have to take a closer look at the weather patterns over North America based on real observations.
Europe is not known to have any specific/direct influences, as it is too far from the El Niño regions. But that does not mean it has no impact here. There is just too much noise in the data to find a reliable specific El Niño pattern.
ENSO does change the weather globally. But apart from the direct influence over North America and other closer regions, places like Europe have many other factors at play before any direct weather influence reaches this far from the Pacific Ocean.
NORTH AMERICA WINTER WEATHER DEVELOPMENT
Typically, the first influence of these ocean anomalies can be seen in the changes to the jet stream. The jet stream is like a large river of air at around 8-11km (5-7mi) altitude. It brings along moisture and precipitation, so it has a big effect on snowfall patterns.
The most typical pressure effect of an El Niño is the low-pressure area in the North Pacific. That usually weakens the polar jet stream but strengthens the subtropical jet stream over the southern United States.
The image below shows the average position of the jet stream during El Niño winters and the resulting weather patterns over the United States and Canada. You can see the extended Pacific jet stream across the southern United States.
A stronger subtropical jet stream brings along lower pressure, cooler temperatures, and more moisture. That combination increases the snowfall potential across the central and eastern United States, provided enough cold air is available.
The image below shows the average pressure pattern during the last few El Niño Winters. You can see the main low-pressure area in the North Pacific and a blocking high over Canada. Image by NOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory (PSL).
The high-pressure area over Canada means a low-pressure train over the southern half of the United States. This means extending the Pacific jet stream, bringing lower pressure, more moisture, and precipitation to the southern United States, along with cooler temperatures.
Looking at the temperature anomalies in an average El Niño winter, you can see colder temperatures in the southern half of the United States and parts of the eastern United States. The northern United States and Canada are warmer than normal during an El Niño.
The main winter weather “battle zones” are usually in the central and southern United States, along the stronger Pacific jet stream.
Precipitation-wise, an average El Niño winter brings more precipitation to the southern half of the United States, especially in the Southeast. However, we usually see less precipitation in the northwestern United States, around the Great Lakes, and mid-Atlantic.
Speaking of precipitation, what about snowfall? The data shows that the El Niño jet stream also changes the snowfall potential over North America as the pressure systems take a different path.
El Niño also changes the Winter snowfall patterns, as seen in the image below by NOAA Climate. Some areas with more snowfall during an El Niño include the eastern United States, the southern United States, and the central and upper Plains.
That is mainly due to low-pressure systems trailing across the southern United States. More moisture increases the chances of snowfall in the southern half if colder air is available.
Less snowfall is usually seen across the deep southern United States, Ohio Valley, Midwest, northern Plains, northern Rockies, and Pacific Northwest.
Actual snow amounts are always limited in the southern United States because it needs to be cold enough to snow. For that reason, there is usually much more snowfall during an El Niño in the higher and colder elevations of the southwestern United States.
There is less snowfall around the Great Lakes, interior New England, the northern Rockies, and the Pacific Northwest, extending up into western Canada.
Now, we know what to expect for snowfall in a typical El Niño Winter. But we will look at the latest long-range snowfall predictions from actual models, as historical data can only tell you so much.
WINTER 2023/2024 LATEST SNOWFALL PREDICTIONS
The format of our snowfall forecast breakdown is simple. We will look at two well-established seasonal weather forecasting systems. The first is the ECMWF, and the second model is the UKMO.
You will first see the average snowfall forecast for the meteorological Winter period (December-January-February), and then we will do a monthly breakdown. There are a lot of details in the monthly forecast that the whole seasonal average does not show.
ECMWF WINTER 2023/2024 SNOWFALL FORECAST
As always, we start with the ECMWF, the most often used and highly regarded seasonal forecasting system.
First, looking at the average image for Europe, we can see a very weak snowfall forecast. Most of the continent is forecast to have less snowfall than normal, except for the Alps and higher parts of northern Europe.
The December snowfall forecast shows most of the continent with negative snowfall amounts, apart from the far north. This is likely linked to a more westerly to southwesterly flow over most of Europe.
In the January forecast, the same pattern continues. There is no notable area of increased snow accumulation forecast apart from the usual higher elevations.
February shows no improvement, apart from the snowfall increase in the same known areas. This shows that February has a tendency for more precipitation but not really much more cold air.
The next image below shows the change in the snowfall rate forecast between the latest model data and the previous model run. We can see that the latest ECMWF forecast shows much less snowfall in the latest run, apart from the higher elevations.
Also, for the first time, we have the March snowfall forecast data. Of course, March can still be cold and usually provides snowfall. But looking at the March snow forecast image below, we can see most of Europe having a lower-than-normal end to the snow season.
NORTH AMERICA ECMWF SNOWFALL PREDICTION
Over North America, we see a very interesting snowfall forecast. ECMWF suggests more snowfall than usual across much of the central Plains, northern Plains, the southern United States, and the upper Midwest. This is a strong snowfall forecast, which is, at the moment, more unique to the ECMWF model.
Looking at Canada, you can see increased snowfall across the southern and southeastern parts of the country, while less snowfall is forecast across the west coast of North America.
That can be seen right away in the December snowfall forecast below. You can see a much-increased snowfall potential across the central and western United States. Also, there is more snowfall forecast for much of southern Canada.
January snowfall forecast shows a shift in the weather patterns to the east. An increased snowfall potential is now seen over the central and southern Plains, the southeastern and northeastern United States, and the Appalachian Mountains.
The January snowfall forecast also shows continued increased snowfall across eastern and southeastern Canada. Less snowfall is forecast for the Pacific Northwest, a common pattern in El Niño Winters.
Looking at the February snowfall forecast, you can see the snowfall potential now shifting back again. This time, you can see an increased snowfall potential forecast over the central and northern Plains, upper Midwest, and across parts of the eastern United States.
Canada does not show strong snowfall anomalies like before and even shows less snowfall in some places. The Pacific Northwest sees continued below-normal snowfall amounts in February.
Below is another special image that compares the latest forecast to the previous one. You can see that more snowfall is being forecast across much of the United States in the latest run.
It also shows that while some places like the Pacific Northwest constantly show less snowfall than normal, this run still showed more snowfall potential than the previous one.
And we also have the March snow forecast data available for North America. Unlike the previous months, the March early forecast shows less snowfall across much of the United States.
This indicates an early end to the snowfall season across the United States as we enter Spring 2024.
UKMO WINTER 2023/2024 SNOWFALL FORECAST UPDATE
Long-range weather forecasting is an interesting task. We look at trends and probabilities, but the variation is still key. The more forecast data you can look at, the better idea you can get what the most possible scenario is.
As you can never trust a single forecast model, we use the UKMO long-range forecasting system along the ECMWF. It is run by the United Kingdom Met Office, which is where the initials UKMO come from.
First, looking at the seasonal average for Europe, we can see another weak snowfall forecast identical to the ECMWF. Most of the continent is forecast to have less snowfall than normal, except for some central and northern parts.
The December snowfall forecast shows a weak snowfall outlook, with most of the continent having less snowfall than normal. This is identical to ECMWF, which gives this scenario a higher probability.
Looking at the January snowfall forecast, there is not much improvement except for some parts of central Europe and towards the northeast.
But looking at the February snowfall forecast, you can see more snowfall across far northern Europe. The rest of Europe looks pretty much the same as the ECMWF forecast, with above-normal snowfall in the higher elevations.
Just like in the previous model, we also have a graphic that shows the change in the snowfall forecast compared to the previous run. It shows that the latest UKMO data have somewhat increased the snowfall potential over several parts of Europe despite monthly forecasts looking all below normal.
As a practical example, let us say a country was forecast to have -60% snowfall in the previous forecast but is forecast to have -30% snowfall in the latest forecast. That is still a below-normal forecast but is actually a +30% improvement in snowfall amount from one forecast to another.
That is why we tend to compare one forecast to another to see if the trend shows increasing snowfall amounts with new data or lowering it.
NORTH AMERICA UKMO SNOWFALL PREDICTION
The average seasonal forecast for the United States and Canada shows a reduced snowfall potential across much of the United States and the entire Pacific Northwest. But having below-normal snow amounts is not equal to having no snow at all.
The December snowfall forecast shows an increased snowfall potential in the central Plains, while the rest of the United States is mostly forecast to have less snowfall than normal. Like in the ECMWF model, we see increased snowfall over eastern Canada and reduced snowfall over the Pacific Northwest.
January snowfall forecast shows the increased snowfall potential only over the southeastern United States and up along the east coast. The rest of the United States is forecast to have below-normal snowfall this month.
On the other hand, eastern Canada shows some strong snowfall anomalies this month.
The UKMO February snowfall forecast shows no major improvement except for some individual states and an area of increased snowfall from the central Plains towards the Great Lakes. Only Canada shows continued increased snowfall potential, which was not seen in the ECMWF forecast for February.
This is a different forecast from the ECMWF, but that is to be expected as the forecast length increases. Also, last year, the ECMWF performed better in this range than the UKMO model.
Just like in the previous model, we also have a graphic that shows the change in the snowfall forecast compared to the previous run. As you can see, the latest UKMO run has greatly improved the snowfall amounts across the entire eastern United States and the northern Plains.
This shows that despite the overall monthly forecasts looking bad, the total snowfall amounts were still higher than in the previous run, which is similar to the ECMWF trend.
NOAA OFFICIAL WINTER 2023/2024 FORECAST
We can also monitor snowfall potential on normal temperature and precipitation forecasts. The highest snowfall potential is usually in regions with colder temperatures and more precipitation.
Below is NOAA’s latest Winter 2023/2024 forecast update for the United States.
The first image shows the temperature probability, with warmer chances in the northern United States. The southern half of the country is in a neutral zone. A colder signal is emerging in the southern United States, but this will likely shift further to the east in the second half of Winter.
This is expected as the jet stream and lower pressure sit over the southern United States. That brings cooler temperatures along, but it is impossible to say at this point just how low the temperatures can go.
We can only tell from the developing pattern that temperatures in the northern United States will be higher than usual. At the same time, the central and southern parts will see normal to below-normal temperatures.
The official precipitation forecast also shows a typical El Niño pattern. We see an equal-to-higher probability for more precipitation (and snowfall) over the southern and eastern parts of the United States. Less precipitation is expected across the northern parts of the United States.
Despite having warmer/colder temperature anomalies, it still depends on how much cold air is available for snowfall. For example, a warm temperature anomaly in the northern United can still be colder than a cold anomaly in the southern United States.
So, parts of the northern United States can still have more snowfall than the southern half in an El Niño Winter despite being forecast warmer than normal. But as the northern parts usually get less precipitation, that heavily limits the potential for large snow accumulations.
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