Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Benchmarking the Winter

Stopping by a woods on a snowy Parkville, Baltimore County, MD submitted by long time powerhound and Senior Ambassador Ms. Williams. See original context of image, 1/20/08 

7:15 AM EDT 9/16/2011 | THOUGH IT WAS WARM YESTERDAY... | High temperatures in the Mid-Atlantic on Wednesday ranged from 88 at Baltimore-Washington Airport and 84 at Pottstown, PA's Limerick Airport to a snow-person melting 96 at Alma, Georgia. Meanwhile the first big push of semi-Arctic air of the season is plowing across the Upper Midwest. Forecaster Robert in our Southeast Wisconsin zone (facebook) reports that "a dramatic temperature change is on tap for the rest of this week" and the cool-down is coming east. Although mid-September warmth or early season cool shots are not out of the ordinary, while all y'all have been relishing in football, field hockey and fall festival season... our team has been battening down the research hatches for could turn into a real white-knuckle winter. 

STARTING IN WINTER 2006-07, members of our forecast team have began a pre-winter process of identifying specific climate teleconnection indicators and associated trends. In September 2009, this technique produced strong indications that the multi-sphere data (trends from ocean, polar and atmospheric inputs as shown by location on the image below) was pointing to a potentially very significant winter. Read what we wrote back on August 30, 2009 ; November 11, 2009; November 29, 2009 and this historic post on December 17, 2009, which was fully 48 hours before the first flakes began flying in the Mid-Atlantic.  

WHAT'S THE POINT? Using a synthesis of these climate factors, Foot's Forecast has developed over time a data-driven, research-based model utilizing climate teleconnective inter-relationships and patterns, in conjunction with a lesser known forecasting concept called the Long Range Cycle. This technique has worked best in recent years when  implemented by high school or college students. They're not bound by the same liabilities or ratings rules of either TV broadcasters or NWS Meteorologists. We can all co-teach and co-ordinate research across state lines, dig into the data unrestricted by school bells and internet filters and generate a collaborative forecast read by tens of thousands a day. (That is, if it's ok for students at your school to investigate government climate data unsupervised... risky I know.)  

WHAT'S THE SECRET? Using an integrative and cloud-based collaboration, we are able to teach our high school and college forecasters old time forecasting techniques, some of which are no longer taught in standard Meteorology or Atmospheric Science programs at accredited four-year institutions. In fact, some of our best and most controversial forecasts were based off a single piece of paper containing data 12 hours old! In the past two years, our techniques permitted us to predict the arrival or departure of snow down to the minute, the amount of snow down to the TENTH of an inch for dozes and dozens of cities, several times in a row. It wasn't an accident, it wasn't a bunch of Baltimore kids who got lucky with a couple snowstorms... it was collaboration across county lines, passion for scientific data and innovative forecasting techniques, led by students just like those reading this page in their classroom today, right now.  

WHAT'S OUR RECORD? What did we REALLY say two years ago about the Winter of 2009-2010? Take a look for yourself at posts published as part of the Dec 19, 2009 post-storm recap, in which we said in this section on 12/23/2000:

We saw the potential for a significant winter pattern as early as August 2009, and refined those ideas in October. On 10/19/09 the following projection was made: 
"A rapid onset of persistent and disruptive winter weather is expected by December 5. If this unstable pattern continues, as was observed in October - December of 2002, areas of the Mid-Atlantic region could experience widespread school closings for 2 or more days this December. This may equal or exceed the cold and snowy period observed in the Baltimore region from December 4-11, 2002."
HOW ABOUT SOMETHING MORE SPOOKY? In that same post on 12/23/2009, we said:
"What does 2010 have in stock? Good news and bad news! If you are a powderhound, make arrangements to be safely nestled at your favorite ski resort by New Years. If you are a teacher or student, be ready to roll quickly into instruction the week of 1/4 - the atmosphere has more "plans" for us.  If you are an HSA planner in Maryland, we hypothesize conditions in mid-January will turn around and warm up - just in time to get state testing completed. After that? Let's just say the Empire Strikes Back - as in the empire of Old Man Winter. The January 20 to February 15 period might be a time that tries men's souls* (and ladies too of course!) 
*All you powderhound types out there-- did ya' catch that last little piece? 

HOW WILL WE "BENCHMARK" THIS WINTER?   Using the same techniques of synthesizing teleconnection patterns along with historical analogs and the Long Range Cycle, we can tell you the data points we'll be tracking in the coming weeks, in collaboration with students from several high schools around the country. Those data points include expected changes in a Nina, lack of upwelling in the western Atlantic, above normal Sea Surface Temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, noticeably lower Arctic Sea ice extent this year as compared to 2009, changes in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (a North Pacific version of El Nino/La Nina) and watching for how Siberian snow cover develops come October, along with the usual suspects of the North Atlantic Oscillation, the Arctic Oscillation and the Madden-Julian Oscillation (note: No relation to John Madden or the NFL. We can't have them learning these tricks.)

GREAT...WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR WINTER?  Well you had to ask, so we can give you a preview. We think the atmosphere is stuck in a repeating pattern of major events every 45- to 60-days.  It may even cycle all the way back to the February 2010 Blizzards, but for discussion purposes let's go back about one year. Remember the October 24, 2010 mega-storm over the Great Lakes? Ok good, now using the 45- to 60-day Long Range, go forward 60 days to... the December 25-27, 2010 East Coast Blizzard, then go forward about 60 more days to the President's Day Surprise of Feb 21-22, 2011

Getting weird for you? Now go forward another 60 or so days to the April 13-19, 2011-- the mega outbreak of tornadoes in the Midwest and Southeast, followed by the Joplin, MO event on May 22. If we pick a mid-point of May 1 and go forward about 60 days, we get to the start of the mega-heat wave in the Central U.S. in early July, during which Dallas last saw it's sub-100 degree day on June 19, a record that just broke this week. But wait, there's more... go forward about 45 or so days from early July and you reach the start of the Hurricane Irene/Tropical Storm Lee period, which ended last week. What's our prediction based on the proposed trend?

THE NEXT PATTERN OF MAJOR WEATHER EVENTS IN THE U.S. should follow this sequence. Please note these are generalized regional projections, which do not replace our data-centered overall winter forecast products developed by the Winter Stormcast Team.
  • The Midwest's first significant winter weather event in the period from November 5 to 10.  November 5 will be assigned as benchmark date for accumulating snow at Cleveland Airport (1" or greater) or significant rainfall (.50" or greater)  to initiate the winter pattern.
  • The Mid-Atlantic's first significant winter weather event (defined as an event with accumulations of 4" or more) may not arrive until late December into early January. Sharply lower Arctic sea ice readings as compared to 2009 are more resembling that of 2006. La Nina is currently cooling further and may head for a double-dip bottom out. In 2006-07, many Mid-Atlantic ski resorts struggled to maintain trail coverage from December into January due to lack of snow from storms. We sense a similar pattern may be setting up.
  • However, we also believe the overall Eastern U.S. winter pattern may be sprinkled with short duration, high impact events similar to the January 26, 2011 "Snow Monsoon" debacle.
OUR WINTER STORMCAST TEAM directed by Lead Forecaster Connor M. of Central Maryland and Lead Forecaster Jason M. of the Capital Region, along with  a dozen other collaborators, will be digging into the climate data and projections to generate a quantified PRELIMINARY winter forecast in the next several weeks. Check for blurbs about the forecast in our Mid-Atlantic Winter Stormcast page on facebook, and enjoy the calm weather now before the next 60-day cycle comes to a close!

Forecast Advisors Mr. Foot, Mr. Krinchinsky and Mr. Lear