A band of warm water lurking in the Pacific Ocean off Washington's coast could emerge to impact winter weather patterns in the United States, but it likely is going to be trampled by a monster El Nino, according to weather forecasters.
Winter weather forecasting is shaping up as the battle of "The Blob versus Godzilla El Nino," WSI Corp.'s Michael Ventrice said earlier this month at Energy Metro Desk's Weather & Price Tealeaves II conference in Houston. Ventrice shared a panel to discuss winter forecasts with Commodity Weather Group's Matt Rogers and Bob Haas of MDA Information Services.
A huge pool of Pacific water about two or three degrees above normal that has been churning since last fall has been dubbed the "Blob" by weather forecasters. In a usual winter season, a pool of its size could threaten U.S. winter weather patterns. But it's going into the ring with the a so-called "Godzilla El Nino," Ventrice said.
This Godzilla of a weather system is emerging as the "pattern driver" for the upcoming winter, Ventrice said. In general, El Nino systems warm temperatures across the northern part of the United States and cause wetter conditions in California. However, El Ninos in recent years have failed to live up to their reputations. Not this year, though, as it looks strong enough to take out any competition.
"In the left corner, we have the Blob and in the right corner, it's Godzilla...a classic, full-blown El Nino," said Ventrice. The current El Nino pattern is "locked into circulation" and now appears "very similar" to the "ultra-warm" winters of 1982-1983 and 1997-1998.
"There's a very strong indication that El Nino will be the main driver" this winter season, Ventrice said.
A "Godzilla El Nino is not in the textbooks," but it surely looks like the real thing this year, Rogers told the audience. The last time an El Nino pattern appeared this strong was 18 years ago, and he knows not everyone is in agreement about what's coming this year. That's especially true as weather forecasts have fallen flat with the extreme winter temperatures of the past two years.
"There are skeptics out there," Rogers said. He noted that the Farmers Almanac is forecasting a "cold and snowy winter," while others diverge and see El Nino peaking in two or three months (see Daily GPI, Sept. 21).
But "we're in a situation here where the Tropics outweigh everything else," Rogers said. "As a meteorologist, I want volatility, but it's difficult to fight a super strong El Nino versus the Blob...Force is going to win..."
Rogers still is hedging his forecast a little bit because the weather patterns have been skewed for a few years. "Never say never on the weather," he said. El Nino could be intense early and be "killed off faster," with deterioration through November. Under those conditions, it could lead to a "shot of warm weather" in December followed by colder spurts in January and February.
If El Nino hits its peak "on schedule" in December, there is a possibility for a late burst of cold weather in February, Rogers said.
MDA's Haas, like his colleagues, said sustained cold weather this season appears "very unlikely." MDA is forecasting that the period from December to February may be almost 3% warmer than the 30-year normal and 1.9% warmer than the 10-year normal. The warmest temperatures versus historical forecasts are expected in December, with a "warmer" January and "sort of warm" February and March.
"The general theme with El Nino is more warm than cold," Rogers said. MDA is forecasting this year's winter to be "in line" with 1997-1998, and this year's winter "will be the strongest of the two years' events." There's a lot of agreement on the U.S. pattern for a strong El Nino, but he admitted that the "sample size is very small" since there are only two winter season since 1982 to use in comparison.
"The next month or two months clearly are the keys," Rogers said.
For the record, AccuWeather.com forecasters said last week they expect El Nino to intensify and bring relatively mild weather to the Northeast and drought relief to California (see Daily GPI, Oct. 7). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other weather groups also have called for a strong El Nino pattern to continue through the winter.
In its annual review of winter fuel supplies included in this month's Short Term Energy Outlook, the Energy Information Administration said 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).