The upcoming winter will be influenced by an intensifying El Nino effect, bringing relatively mild weather to population centers in the Northeast and drought relief to California, according to AccuWeather's 2015-2016 U.S. Winter Forecast, which was released Wednesday.
The season will be particularly mild early on, according to AccuWeather.com’s Paul Pastelok, long-range expert forecaster.
" We just don't know exactly yet whether or not we're going to see the pattern turn cold and snowy," Pastelok said. "...There is an opportunity that [the weather] could change on us as we get into February and early March."
The Northeast and mid-Atlantic can expect fewer days of subzero temperatures than last year, the forecaster said. Farther west in the Great Lakes region, a lack of arctic air for much of the early and midwinter will lead to a weak lake-effect season, causing snowfall and precipitation totals to fall below normal.
Natural gas customers are banking on El Nino -- a warming of the Pacific Ocean that historically occurs about every three to five years -- to keep temperatures mild this winter (see Daily GPI, Sept. 21). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other weather groups are all calling for a strong El Nino pattern to continue through the winter, which means mild temperatures for key markets such as the Northeast and Midwest, and the potential for heavy rains in drought-stricken California.
" As one of the strongest El Ninos in the last 50 to 60 years continues to develop, it's likely that heavy rainfall and severe weather will take aim at the Southeast and Gulf Coast," AccuWeather.com said. "El Nino patterns often result in severe weather outbreaks for this region as bigger, stronger systems are able to take a southern storm track."
Wintry weather could start early in the northern Plains, with the potential for a few snowstorms as early as November. And the building El Nino could bring above-normal precipitation to the southern Plains.
It could also bring drought relief to California, but below-normal precipitation, in the form of both rain and snow, and above-normal temperatures will define the season across the Northwest and northern and eastern Rockies.
"Ski areas in the northern Rockies may be missing out on significant fresh snowpack," Pastelok said. The dryness across the area could eventually translate to worsening drought conditions if spring rain is not abundant.
In its annual review of winter fuel supplies, the Energy Information Administration said this week the average U.S. household can expect a 10% decrease in natural gas expenditures this winter compared with last winter, based on a 4% decline in gas prices and more moderate average temperatures (see Daily GPI,Oct. 6). Even in the event of another cold winter, EIA does not expect natural gas inventories to fall below 1,000 Bcf by the end of the heating season.