CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Now that it’s beginning to get colder, the big question on everyone’s mind is what kind of weather will we see this winter? We went into last winter with a strong El Nino pattern which gave us a slightly warmer and wetter than average conditions. This year may look a bit different than last year since neutral conditions are in place. Since we don’t have an El Nino or La Nina pattern, the long-term trends become more of a predictor for the winter outlook. Other climate patterns like the Madden-Julian Oscillation and Arctic Oscillation will play a larger role in how the winter forecast will shape up. So, here’s what you can expect for the 2019-2020 winter season.
- Temperatures are expected to be warmer than normal
- Big temperature swings could be a trend through the winter
- The precipitation types could be an even mix of rain, ice, or snow
- This setup also tends to bring average snowfall for a typical year
The best way to start a winter weather forecasts for our area is too look at an average year. Typically we see very little in the way of snow and ice across the Piedmont, but totals can go up significantly as you head northwest to the Mountains. Average yearly snowfall totals range from around 3-8 inches in the Piedmont to upwards of 24+ inches in the Mountains.
The other part of a winter forecast is our temperatures from December to February. With the extreme elevation change across the area, our temperatures will also be quite different from east to west. For the winter months we usually have average high temperatures in the 50s for most places. However, depending on the location our average high temperatures could range from the 60s over the Sandhills to the 30s and 40s across the Mountains.
Maps by NCSU
Maps by NCSU
So how is our winter looking in comparison to a typical year?
Currently, we are holding in a neutral pattern and all indications point to very little change through spring.
A neutral pattern is characterized by normal ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific off the South American coast. During an ENSO neutral period you can expect to see the usual circulation and weather pattern over the Pacific Ocean. This will have less of an impact on the weather over the next several months. However, other short term climate patterns like the Madden-Julian Oscillation and Arctic Oscillation could impact the winter forecast by giving us big fluctuations in the weather trend.
How does this impact us?
With this type of pattern, the southern United States often see warmer temperatures through the winter months with the north on the cooler side. The southeastern states trend to be a little wetter with the subtropical jet bringing storms through the region.
For the upcoming winter, above-normal precipitation is expected for the northern half of the US. The deep south and parts of California could see slightly below-average precipitation this winter. All other locations are projected to have a normal winter season. Since we are looking at average precipitation this winter in the Carolinas, we could also end up with a typical amount of snow and ice totals.
Temperatures this winter are expected to be above average for much of the US. However, the northern Plains and parts of the Midwest is expected to be right around normal for the upcoming winter. The Climate Prediction Center doesn’t project any location to be below average for the 2019-2020 season.
Let’s compare to past years….
In a typical winter season, our high temperatures average around 52.8° from December to February with the total precipitation averaging about 9.96”. When taking a look back at previous winters with an ENSO Neutral setup similar to the upcoming season, we can get a good idea of what may be in store for us this year.
The 1992-1993 winter season for Charlotte averaged a daytime high of 52.1° with 11.70” of precipitation. We had two minor snow events over the 3-month period with Charlotte picking up Trace of snow. Most of the snow this winter fell in December and February.
Going a little farther back to the 1966-1967 winter season, data shows a slightly cooler and drier than average year for the Charlotte area. Our average daytime high from December to February was 51.8° and precipitation totals ended up at 9.13”. However, snowfall accumulations were well above average for Charlotte with 5.4” of snow for the whole winter season. This total come during one big snowstorm in February of 1967.
If history repeats itself, then our winter weather conditions could go either direction and easily be above or below normal. Snowfall amounts will vary significantly depending on where the average temperatures fall this winter season.
One variable that has to be taken into account is a random or unexpected storm that could come through at any time over the winter months. Why could this be an issue you ask? It could bring heavy rain, dump a significant amount of snow, allow a much colder air mass to settle into the region, or just change the pattern altogether. Any of these situations could easily bust the winter weather forecast.
Stay tuned for what’s to come!