Brad's 9th annual Winter Forecast for the Carolinas

Brad's 9th annual Winter Forecast for the Carolinas


by Brad Panovich / First Warn Chief Meteorologist

Bio | Email | Follow: @wxbrad

Posted on November 15, 2013 at 12:44 AM

Updated Friday, Nov 15 at 4:05 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's that time of the year again when we get  the shorter days, colder temperatures and of course my winter forecast.

This will be the 9th year I have put a winter forecast together. These are not easy forecasts, and long range forecasting is extremely difficult. The goal of mine is to simply forecast whether the pattern will be cooler or warmer than average.

Along with whether we get more rain or snow that average. In the past 8 years I got 5 of those correct and 3 wrong. Last year I almost busted for the 2nd straight year, but the late cold and snow helped me verify.  So lets get to this years forecast.

Winter Factors:

There are no strong signals this year which make this a very difficult forecast. We will have no moderate or strong El Nino or La Nina to speak of. For the 2nd straight year we will have a neutral phase of ENSO or as we call it La Nada. For us an El Nino pattern means wet and cold winters and a La Nina means dry and mild.  Here's a look back at snowfall in Charlotte over the past 30 years and then the average snowfall for EL Nino, La Nina and Neutral. 

Other signals like an oscillation in the Pacific called the PDO and the other global patterns don't show a strong tendency towards one pattern over another.  Usually back to back Neutral years like we are having lead to a very uncertain forecast. There are some small signs that by Spring into early Summer 2014 we might see a weak El Nino develop. That won't happen until after this winter is over. If that happens quicker than expected, then we could see a more active storm track by late winter. The chart below shows the ENSO(El Nino/La Nina) forecast with a 91% chance of neutral condition lasting through the Winter months. 


Other factors to watch will be the recovery of the Arctic sea ice and increasing snow pack in Canada and the Arctic. There was a record low for sea ice last year in the arctic, and there has been a huge recovery from last year. Also worth noting the early snow cover over Canada this fall. Both of these factors could mean a large reservoir of cold air building early in the Canada.  

Storm Tracks:

The main storm track is always key around here. Snow in the Carolinas is 1 part cold air and 1 part moisture. Getting these 2 to sync up is always the forecast challenge for winter storms in our region. When looking back at the top 10 coldest and snowiest winters in Charlotte only 1 winter shows up in both. Which means our colder winter tends to be dry, and our snowy winters tend to be mild. More moisture is easier to sync up with a cold shot of air than lots of cold dry air and no moisture. Some of the biggest snowstorms have occur in mild winters and usually closer to Spring.

This year I expect an active primary storm track through the Ohio valley which will keep us on the mild and wet side most of the time. There will be a secondary storm track through the Gulf coast up into the Carolina coastline. This track phasing with the other track does present many opportunities for a few big winter storms. 

If we see a short term negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation we could see a several bouts of very cold air and snowy weather.  I expect that in between we will see more wet and mild weather though. 


 Here's the Forecast: 

The bottom line is I think we will be slightly above average for the entire winter temperatures. Then above average in precipitation with mainly lots of cold rains. Along with slightly below average snow & ice. The pattern as I stated earlier is subject to small changes which could bring bouts of ice and snow. This is something to watch closely along with the chance for 2-3 big winter storms. This set-up means relatively small changes to the storm tracks could have big implications on our winter weather. 



I expect a wild winter for most of the U.S. and we will be on the very edge of the major storm track. As always with these types of seasonal forecasts stay tuned for pattern changes and short term forecast through out the season.  Makes sure you follow me on Twitter: @wxbrad, Facebook: Brad Panovich WCNC  Google +: +Brad Panovich , and the WeatherCaster app for the latest forecasts. Plus don't forget the one, and the only Snow meter will be back and ready to go when the first flakes fly.