Winter Weather Outlook 2017-2018

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? This year is starting off very similar to last year with a weak La Nina. Which means the water temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific are trending cooler that average. So, here’s what you can expect for the 2017-2018 winter season.

  1. Temperatures will be slightly warmer than usual
  2. Overall, just a drier than average winter
  3. Any precipitation would more likely be rain or ice, rather than snow
  4. This setup also tends to bring less snow than 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

snow totals=

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.

Normal Maz Temp1Normal Max Temp2Normal Max Temp3

Maps by NCSU

So how is our winter looking in comparison to a typical year?

Currently we are in a weak La Nina year, but the trend through the winter season is to see it slightly strengthen in January and February. By March, the La Nina is expected to weaken and gradually transition back to neutral for Spring. 

NOAA map

Maps by NOAA

La Niña is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific off the South American coast.

La Nina

During these cold episodes of a La Niña year, you can expect the usual patterns we see over the Pacific Ocean to become disrupted. These changes in the atmospheric circulation and tropical precipitation can have a big impact on the upcoming weather events. In regions with abnormally cold water we tend to see suppressed cloudiness and rainfall, especially during the winter and spring month in the Northern Hemisphere. However, rainfall is typically enhanced over the warmer waters near Indonesia, Malaysia and northern Australia. 


La Nina conditions
How does this impact us? 

With this type of pattern, the southern United States often see drier conditions and warmer temperatures through the winter months. The northwest usually ends up with a much colder and wetter winter, which could ultimately lead to more snowfall for the upper northwest.

For the upcoming winter, less than normal precipitation is expected for most of the southern half of the US. The upper northwest and parts of the Great Lakes could see slightly above average precipitation this winter. All other locations are projected to have a normal winter season. Since we are looking at a drier winter in the Carolinas, you can also expect to have below normal snow and ice totals.

Temperatures this winter are expected to be right at or above average for much of the US.  Most of the unusually warm weather will be across the south and southwest, but the above normal temperatures could extend all the way up into Idaho. All of the southeast and much of the eastern seaboard will also be slightly above normal for the upcoming winter. The northwest is the only places that’s projected to be below average for the 2017-2018 season.

Temp outlook

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 a weak La Nina setup similar to the upcoming season, we can get a good idea of what may be in store for us this year. 

The 2008-2009 winter season for Charlotte averaged a daytime high of 54.1° with 7.96” of precipitation. There were two snow events over the 3-month period with Charlotte picking up nothing more than a trace of snow. However, there was also an early spring storm that brought us 4” of snow in March 2009.

snow totals=0

Going a little farther back to the 1996-1997 winter season, data showed another slightly warmer and drier year for the Charlotte area. Our average daytime high from December to February was 55.4° and precipitation totals ended up at 9.86”.  Snowfall accumulations were minor for our area with Charlotte only picking up 0.5” of snow for the whole winter season despite having 5 snow events.  

snow totals=1

If history repeats itself, then we are in store for above average temperatures this winter with lower precipitation totals and minor snow events.

One variable that has to be taken in to 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 all together. Any of these situations could easily bust the winter weather forecast.

Stay tuned for what’s to come!!