Saturday, October 25, 2014

Winter of the Black Swan?

(Forecaster Foot & the Long Range Team) While relative calm has been the general rule this Fall for a good portion of the eastern U.S., those of us who follow long term trends in seasonal climate data are increasingly concerned that a period of major upheaval in weather is fast approaching. 

In this second of our annual three part "What about winter" we will discuss the Black Swan theory and its implications for the winter ahead.

We will also revisit our overview of climate indicators as first posted on 9/22/2014 to determine what changes or anomalies have developed since.

From that assessment, the objective of this report is to present evidence in the data we believe points to the following for this winter:

  • In extrapolating this pattern forward, we suggest storms this winter, enhanced by El Nino, will produce at times, highly disruptive conditions such as heavy wet snow and  strong winds along the coast, paralyzing snow/ice storms in interior areas as well as bouts of higher precipitation hinted by the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO).
  • Long range indicators such higher than normal Siberian snow cover, and a negative North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) that may introduce cooler temperatures sooner, and also intense periods of below normal temperatures.
  • We are targeting the period from November 15 to 25 for arrival of the Mid-Atlantic's first significant winter storm.  To have a "White Thanksgiving" but miss a White Christmas would most certainly qualify as a rare and unexpected "Black Swan."

What is the "Black Swan" factor?

Pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong, led by students demanding government
accountability for changing election rules without the people's consent
In 2008, author Nassim Nicholas Taleb expanded the meaning of this phrase with his book "The Black Swan: The Impact Of The Highly Improbable" (Penguin, 2008). His premise centers on the idea that despite our best efforts to plan and prepare for major events that we know may occur in the future, the world is "severely affected by events that are rare and difficult to predict." Origins of the Black Swan impact first developed among stock market traders, who would over time see the arrival and aftermath of seemingly surprise and unpredictable events as major drivers of market behavior over short periods of time. Even the Federal Reserve earlier in 2014 proposed that the reduced economic output seen in the first quarter of the year may have been influenced by unusually long periods of higher impact weather. The following excerpt is taken from Investopedia's page on the topic:

"Black Swans, Markets and Human Behavior  
Classic black swan events include the rise of the internet and personal computer, the Sept. 11 attacks and World War I. However, many other events such as floods, droughts, epidemics and so on are either improbable, unpredictable or both. This "non-computability" of rare events is not compatible with scientific methods. The result, says Taleb, is that people develop a psychological bias and "collective blindness" to them. The very fact that such rare but major events are by definition outliers makes them dangerous."
The relevance to weather and climate planning?

One might wonder, "What connection if any is there between stock markets, geopolitics and weather events??" Keep reading to  uncover  our answer to that question. Following last winter's multi-pronged assault on much of North America, the frequency of major disruptive weather events - while becoming became more isolated - also tilted toward increasingly catastrophic in areas that were directly impacted.  The shifts in weather patterns since 2011 have been startling:
  • In 2011, the U.S. was beset by a multitude of widespread weather events that impacted millions of people on a regular basis. Most notable were the Spring 2011 tornado outbreaks that tore through the Southeast, then the summer 2011 heatwave, followed by Hurricane Irene, and the October 2011 "Frankenstorm." The most explosive disaster of 2011 that trumps all of these was the Earthquake, Tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster in March. 
  • By 2012, following Hurricane Sandy, government agencies and the media alike were discussing how the nation had seen 13 "billion-dollar" disasters in the previous 12 months. This was also the year the western drought began building, laced with the rising trend of unusually frequent forest fires in California.
  • In 2013, winter for much of the U.S. was markedly less destructive than in recent years, with snowfall rates plummeting to 75% below seasonal norms for many eastern cities - while midwestern and southern plains cities saw much higher snowfall than in the north. 
  • So far, 2014 has yielded a brutally cold and long winter into Spring, followed by a milder summer (East of the Rockies) while the west continues to be plagued by a catastrophic drought topped by the disastrously un-ending wildfire season in California. The hurricane season is heading toward a mostly benign ending, unless November brings a post-Halloween Frankenstorm-like surprise on the East coast.
What is the data suggesting for a winter kickoff?

A review of our first set of climate indicators used to evaluate pre-winter conditions shows the following:
Rutgers University Global Snow Lab graphic from September 2014
  • Siberia snow cover by mid-October 2014 had reached an extent nearly 25% greater than observations from 2013 and 2009. Source: NOAA National Ice Center. Note: NATICE has a data outage as of this writing. Image links will be provided once the site is reported to be operational.
Winter comes early to Wyoming. Images courtesy of the Casper
  • Great Lakes water surface temperatures are reported to be 6 degrees cooler than normal as of October 15. Source: NOAA as reported on

Ebola: A winter-enhanced Black Swan?

With the incessant drumbeat of dire predictions for the upcoming winter, from Accuweather, the Weather Channel and a host of weather enthusiasts alike, we seek to approach the challenges ahead for our readers from the perspective of actionable weather intelligence.

Some may also wonder what Ebola Viral Disease (EVD) has to do with the winter forecast? We underline that this virus, previously understood to be a disease of tropical origins, now presents new challenges having arrived in the temperate zones.

We consider this emerging threat equally central to our mission of analyzing short- and long-term risks to public safety. Addressing the impact that climate can have on public health is well within the wheelhouse of our role. Further, we hold the view that readers benefit more from sourced information that can assist in their decision making about how to best protect family, property and community against emerging threats, whether the concern originates from weather hazards or disease outbreaks, or both.

EVD & EL NINO. The arrival of Ebola on U.S. soil, as well as outside of West Africa into European countries among others, most certainly qualifies for a Black Swan event that has roiled stock markets, and already cost of millions of dollars in preparatory and reactionary responses. We draw a critical connection between the weather and this public health issue due to possible correlations between onset of El Nino in winter periods the effect this oceanic temperature phenomenon has on disease outbreaks, especially in temperate zones.

The inter-relating factors of Ebola, a more severe winter, and rising instability in the geopolitical arena most certainly places Northern Hemisphere societies at higher risk of significant adverse effects from any new and unexpected event. Hence our rationale behind a "Black Swan winter." 

One investigation into this issue studies how the 2009 H1N1 "Swine Flu" Pandemic appeared to affect higher latitude temperate zone countries much less than tropical countries. You can review the findings in this article at the online literature publication PLOS: "Were Equatorial countries less effected by the 2009 Pandemic? The Brazilian experience."

IMPACT OF WEATHER ON PUBLIC HEALTH Heading into winter, the changed situation Ebola presents new considerations when accounting for the annual risk of influenza. We will examine these important questions in a review of journal research literature and present our findings in part three of "What about Winter?"
1. What impact could winter conditions have on the transmissibility and infection rate of Ebola? 
2.  Are there similarities or differences in how Ebola and Influenza viruses function during cold weather outside of an infected host?
3.  What can people more susceptible to cold weather infections do differently this season? 
Until we complete our review of these questions, we offer this excellent and plain-spoken commentary by a highly-respected and well-published professional in the disease research community. Dr. Michael Osterholm is Director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. He recently visited the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. His remarks carried on C-SPAN are available for your review and in 4:50 minute version below. We also offer these resources for those following the situation:

YOUR INPUT IS WELCOME. We invite a respectful and fact-based discourse among readers on these issues,  as well your concerns about the upcoming winter season. If you have sourced information to provide that can augment everyone's understanding of these topics, please join our comment community in advance of what is looking to be an interesting winter ahead.

The Foot's Forecast Long Range Team


Andy, Southern York County Pa said...

The sun tan, ok fall burn have started to fade. Summer and fall fun gear is stored safely in the subbasement. Snowblower and shovels are pulled out of storage, and winter is about to knock on the door. Pulled myself out of weather hibernation, and am ready to welcome the big fat white beast back to town.


Unknown said...

"I'm dreaming of a White Thanksgiving" Andy any early thoughts on the upcoming winter several Mets keep saying its is going to be a rough winter.

Unknown said...

It's on! 2014-15 is gonna be wild!

Andy, Southern York County Pa said...

Plowable snow on the ground before Thanksgiving? Winter coming back early? If you like snow, you will like the second half of November 2014. Just bought 100 lbs of salt, and this bag won't be going on the stash of frozen Pretzels.

Unknown said...

Nice to see you back, Andy! I'm getting excited to see what this Winter season has in store for us!

Unknown said...

Any chance next weekend will be snowy?

Storm said...

welcome winter!!

ravensbbr said...

Howdy, all, glad to be back for another year of powderhound fun! :-P

Unknown said...

What a beautiful sight on the radar in central Minn. and Wisconsin. We just need that beautiful blue over Maryland. It will be sooner than later!

ravensbbr said...

Mike, GFS is still holding onto a R/S system next interesting to see if that model performs better then last year or not...

Andy, Southern York County Pa said...

The period after November 15th to Thanksgiving could be pretty wild if you like cold and snow! Thanksgiving week could look mighty white. I have my snowblower out and I seldom have jumped the gun this early.

Unknown said...

Ravensbbr-Models have been having a really tough time grasping the fluid situation with the patterns. Not long ago they were spitting out a warmer than normal pattern and now have flip flopped. It indeed will be interesting which model will zero in on the situation. Canadien GEM, GFS, EURO ect. Bastardi Sr. has been forecasting colder and snowier for this winter since the summer time. Time will tell. Like Andy, I am stoked! We put the plow blade on the Kabota over the weekend. HEHEHEHE-

NeedaSnowday said...

Well, well, well..... There must be a weather event since the ole gang is assembling!

Salt ya say Andy... Margarita time??

ravensbbr said...

Of all of those models, Mike...I trust Bastardi Sr. the most :-)

Snowday! Welcome back! At least we'll have a lively winter to console us if the Ravens don't make the playoffs...

NeedaSnowday said...

BBR I think we will need Andy's salt for Patron margarita to get through the Ravens season... Eek!

Andy, Southern York County Pa said...

The 5 day period before Thanksgiving has me fueling the snowblower. Anything else is a bonus and a prelude to game time.

NeedaSnowday said...

:::blink:::: This is early for Andy!! Good year to buy stock in Manwich?

Once I see a bird report from Julee it!


ravensbbr said...

Quick hit of pow Fri/Sat? Temps would seem to support it, not sure of widespread buy-in yet...thoughts?

NeedaSnowday said...

Wet. Cold. Rain.


Butch Dynomite said...

Purchased a cord, making upgrades to fire box, just need to stock wine rack.I must say that as much as I love snow- l will pass on Turkey snow on account of potential travel difficulties. Anyway cheers y'all

BioPat said...

Hello all, and here we go with another wild winter! Great to see all of your posts as we move quickly into this cold snap. Looking forward to reading all the posts and comparing notes as we prep for our first real winter weather.
Last weekend we stored the summer furniture, checked the rain spouts and fired up the snow blower with fresh fuel. The snow blower had it check up last spring so it's ready to go and I have a feeling it will see another workout this year.
My husband wanted to buy a new snow blower this year as we have officially been listed as senior citizens this year. Oh well I guess there are worst things in life. S hang on to your hats and looking forward to seeing you on the Blog!!

Amy said...

Hello my winter friends! I was wondering how long before the gang would be back together. My 7 month old has a snow suit she's dying to try out so bring on the flakes!

Unknown said...

Folks I have snow falling in Manchester, Carroll County!

NeedaSnowday said...

I went to bring the dog in because she was getting pelted by sleet!!

Unknown said...

Got a dusting on the deck and grass.

Amy said...

Smelled like snow when I left Columbia at 3.

BioPat said...

Catonsville is having sleet showers, very light but definitely not just rain and the cold is bone chilling yet the temperature is not too bad. Age and that damp cold does put a chill in the bones.

Westsidehideaway said...

Seems to be going back and forth between snow and rain.

ravensbbr said...

Yard covered, trees covered, truck covered in NE CC. Inch+ here at 1000ft. Streets still just wet. Hovering at 32-33F. Gonna dip lower by morning, roads will be...interesting. :)

Andy, Southern York County Pa said...

1 inch here on cars, deck, and grass. Early start to a potentially snowy season.

Andy, Southern York County Pa said...

While I enjoyed the token preseason inch of snow, I am still very excited about the 5 day period leading into Thanksgiving. Still have the snowblower tuned up. Like always though time will tell!

Foot's Forecast said...

Pre-winter greetings all! Thanks for firing up the discussions, here's looking to an exciting season ahead.

I wish to draw your attention to a special new column launched today called "Footnotes." It is at the top menu bar area. There are some notable statements in there I think the old-time powderhounds here need to read, and let me know what you think.

Best to all,
Mr. Foot