My Winter Outlook 2015-2016: Backload Snow And Ice

My Winter Outlook 2015-2016: Backload Snow And Ice

StreetFrederickI would love to tell you that snow this season in our region will be a blockbuster and then sit back and watch it. But this is more complicated than that and I can’t let me personal desire get in the way of my obligation to present a winter outlook where you get close to what you expect. There are a lot of factors besides El Nino, and I have been sharing quite a few in the past month. All explained below, and I did my best to make it graphic friendly and not overload you with jargon, but that’s what happened. Please take a moment to see my reasoning and my snow outlook for the Mid Atlantic that favors the second half of the season as strong forces battle.  We measure snow, but there could be a few impacting ice storms. This relates to our region, but my seasonal number is based on Baltimore’s BWI for simplicity. *Thanks to Natural Artistry for this pic from last winter in Frederick, MD.

I love snow! It’s why I studied meteorology and a big part of why I love my job. Faith-in-the-Flakes* is a saying I came up with my oldest son when he was a toddler many years ago. We believed we would ‘eventually’ get snow after many storms missed us. I think that might apply this winter.

For the record, my record has been spot on the past two winters, but I never claim t be perfect. Three years ago I didn’t do that well. My record over the past six winters has me in the zone four times, or 80% seasonal accuracy. Will my streak keep going? Here are the factors and my outlook:


El Nino

It will be an active year thanks in large part to El Nino. There will be frequent storms in the ‘pipeline’ but we will not get them all here. One thing I am pretty sure of is that the increased upper level winds will make for forecasting headaches as storms will push farther east than originally forecast. That can shift rain zones to snow, but also take close coastal storms out to sea.

Map El Nino Winter StormsHere are the top points I’ve identified with El Nino:

  • This year is on pace to be the strongest on record
  • Compared to last four strong El Ninos, Baltimore either gets a lot or a little bit of snow. No middle ground
    • If we get a lot of snow this winter, the Orioles have a greater chance of winning the World Series next season (correlation is not always causation though).
  • The energy and moisture also limit ‘sustained’ outbreaks of cold air. The net result of the entire winter can be warmer than average.  But cold spells and record low temperatures are still possible.
  • ELNino1997_2015Peak warm water in the Pacific tends to be before Christmas. The location of the warm water can dictate the storm track.
  • Some hints that the warmest pocket might be farther west in the central Pacific than the 1997 record El Nino would support a track more favorable to Mid Atlantic snow.
  • The cooling of El Nino later in the season makes it more likely to be back loaded… More snow later in winter.
  • I wrote about the Modoki El Nino, measuring cooling along the South American coast pushing the warmest water west. This can make the difference of moisture flow like the record Hurricane Patricia (which tracked well west (warm) of us. But southern storm tracks would reach Texas and he Gulf Coast, however many could stay south thanks to stronger upper level winds. Those would be the ones that miss us but could bring more snow to Virginia and North Carolina.

Related Winter and El Nino Stories:

El Nino Winters Mean Extreme Ice (low and high) On Great Lakes

Strong El Nino Brings All Or Nothing Snow in Winter

El Nino Snow And The Baltimore Orioles

El Nino Modoki: Location Of Warm Water Important

El Nino 2015 Is Too Big To Fail

El Nino growing stronger and could last into winter 2016

El Nino 2015 Compared to 1997 By NOAA: Strongest On Record?


Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO)

StormTrackPDOThis is a pool of warm Pacific Ocean water farther north than the equator where El Nino resides. This is near the western US, and will send frequent strong storms, rather quickly east like a sling shot.

  • This favors the Rockies, northern plains, and Great Lakes with snow.
  • November 21st storm hitting Chicago was an example where the Mid Atlantic only gets cold and dry air to follow. That result of overachieving snow fit the theory of storms tracking farther east (and south) than expected due to fast upper level winds)
  • This type of pattern does not bring snow to our region. It can bring cold dry air to follow.


Siberian Snow

This pattern identified by Dr. Judah Cohen tracks Autumn snowfall in Russia. If the snow is above normal, the ‘real’ polar vortex can warm, resulting in a shift of the colder air that can direct the jet stream. If that heavier snow in far northeastern Russia’s Siberia, that that favors the eastern US with a cold and snowy winter storm track.


This October Has Different Top Snow Zone:

The pocket of very heavy snow for autumn 2015 was concentrated in western Russia (near northern Europe). Also another region in eastern Canada’s Newfoundland. I had to explore this further as it might relate to another pattern…. For reference, compare this October snowfall to that of last year.



Compare to the 2014 Autumn snow map:




North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) And The Greenland Block

This NAO is a valuable measure of air pressure in the north Atlantic and Greenland (between 60N and 40N) that itself can shift the jet stream more directly for the eastern US. A negative value relates to a ‘block’ that can send arctic air to the eastern US and favors coastal snow. That is what winter lovers look for as the most beneficial pattern for arctic blasts and coastal storms that can give the big cities their top snow.

North Atlantic Oscillation Winter Jet Stream


NAO Positive Trend Early Winter, Then Cold Pattern Chances Increase:

This summer, close monitoring of season arctic ice melt overall slowed down. Despite some warm episodes, much of the summer in July and August was cooler than normal in Greenland, seen by the slower than normal ice melt in the chart below (below the blue line):


This was backed up by the slowing of melting to near or below the average of the last 3 decades.


Cooler Greenland Summer Can Mean Warmer Winter Pattern For Us:

While that sounds good on a global scale, it actually does not support a negative NAO that we would want for snowy patterns here. In fact, warm water off Greenland’s southern coast is what is needed for that to develop. If Hurricane Joaquin had taken the original track up the east coast an towards the North Atlantic, that would have helped take warmer water there, and fit my theory of atmospheric memory (more on that in a bit).





Progressive Storms

This relates to the fast flow, not Flo from the insurance company. This is also not the left wing of the Democrat Party, rather it favors the right side of the map. Essentially the faster upper level winds and lack of blocking will keep storms moving quickly, to the east, or right side of the map. Without blocking, we storms can’t slow down and stick around too long to pile up the stickage. In this pattern, it’s hard to see a blockbuster storm. In fact, many off the southeast coast are likely to move farther out to sea resulting in glancing blows or misses.

Should a blocking pattern set up, then it would be a game changer… That is more likely in the second half of winter.




2015AtlanticTropicalStormsMuch of the 2015 Atlantic season was rather quiet as expected in an El Nino season. The majority of the storms stayed out to sea and got a push to the east beyond initial model forecasts.

The early part of the season was US intensive. In fact our region did feel the effects of the first few. While Tropical Storm Ana stayed south, indicative of a storm track I think will repeat much of this winter, we did get a direct hit from TS Bill.


Atmospheric Memory

If you remember back a few months, June was our wettest on record. It seemed like we had a target on central Maryland. In fact central Baltimore to Harford County got routine severe weather within most events. I do believe we will have a similar regional target, perhaps not a specific, at times this winter. So while I mentioned some factors already that not the best for snow, I see there are opposing forces.

See Record Wettest June Recap



We average a storm with roughly a foot or more in Baltimore every 3 to 4 years. Feb 12-13, 2014 was out last hit at BWI with 11.5” of snow. The pattern shows that we have to wait until next year or the year after to get the next big one.

Big Snowstorms 3_4Yrs



WoolyBearCaterpillarWinterWe have seen quite a few elements that are favorable to snow based on old folklore:


My Call:


Some bitter cold spells but averages out near to above normal for the season. A warm start to winter as El Nino Decembers tend to be above average. But, the second half of winter has a better chance to be colder than normal. That is when winter kicks in high gear.



I am going  going against my theory of all or nothing El Nino winters. I think strong opposing forces will make for close calls in the second half of winter. While snow is an easy measurement, I have concern that building cold air and leftover El Nino pushed storms could make for a few impacting ice events.

  • The pattern will be very active.
  • There will be model errors with storms verifying farther east than main forecast.
  • We will get a lot of near misses.
  • Southern Maryland/eastern Virginia may get a few storms that miss Baltimore during some cold spells. This area will be above normal thanks to southern storm track.
  • A lot of little events.
  • One good storm in January, but not a blockbuster.
  • A 2 to 4 week period of frequent hits to match up with very active June pattern (atmospheric memory).
  • The back loading of winter will help us catch up in the second half
  • Depending on how strong El Nino remains, and if Modoki is a factor, the arrival of cold air could battle with a few widespread ice storms. This will be the wild card.

Seasonal Total Forecast: Near Normal But Not Normal

My call: 25” Snow at BWI. Range of 20″ to 30″ just above normal. 




Overall I think there will be a few storms that clip our area and could give a boost to southern Maryland and the beaches, but skip central Maryland. When this happens, those areas have a better chance to end up above normal. Including St. Mary’s Co and Lower Eastern Shore to Ocean City.

Western Maryland will get some inland storms, but I don’t think Lake Showers will be their main pull. Mountains end up near or slightly below normal.


This map shows the average winter for Maryland:



Compare to my outlook last year for Winter 2014-15

Other Outlooks

FarmersAlmanacsTwo Farmers Almanacs Favor Snow

NOAA Winter Outlook: Warm and wet

Joe Bastardi From WeatherBell: Colder And More Snow Than Average

Capital Weather Gang: Below Average Snow

Doug Kammerer, NBC4 chief meteorologist: Above normal snow and at least one major storm



Please share your thoughts, best weather pics/video, or just keep in touch via social media

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November 23rd, 2015|Tags: , , , , , , , , |