I get so many questions about this winter with people seeing all kind of wild reports on TV and the Internet. Let’s separate facts from fiction…
*There is LITTLE skill in a seasonal outlook. So, quite frankly, nobody can really tell you what the winter will be like right now. These are just my thoughts and observations after going operational meteorology in Alabama for 37 years.
*There is a strong El Nino ENSO phase underway.
*Looking at the past can give you a peek into the future, but we have to be careful with using analogs.
*Most previous El Nino years have been wet across the Deep South with few exceptions.
An enhanced southern branch of the jet stream tends to push frequent storm systems through during the winter season.
The same pattern that sets up the active storm track, also tends to keep true Arctic air from advancing this far south very often. It can happen, but El Nino winters here tend to be generally mild.
*When cold air does arrive, it is usually shallow. And, with the active southern storm track that could very well open up the door for more ice threats than snow threats this season. Ice storms are caused by extended periods of freezing rain (liquid precipitation falling with temperatures are below 32 at the surface). Our last significant ice storm was in 1996, and the last catastrophic ice storm was in 1982, so we are somewhat overdue for one. And, trust me, they are no fun.
*Having warm weather at Christmas in Alabama is NOT unusual. Most don’t like it, but this isn’t anything new. People in Alabama were outside in their shorts and t-shirts on Christmas Eve, 1964 when the temperature soared to 77 degrees. Our warmest Christmas Day on record came in 1987, when the high in Birmingham was 74 degrees.
Birmingham soared to 76 on December 16, 1924.
FYI… the warmest December temperature on record is 80, recorded on December 7, 1951.
In Alabama, it never “gets cold and stays cold”. If you are looking for that kind of winter, head north.
*I have heard in recent weeks “I can never remember the weather being this strange”. I will never forget speaking to a civic club for the first time in my career about weather in 1979, and and older gentlemen said those very words to me after my talk. The truth is that our weather is “strange” EVERY year. There is no such thing as “normal” weather. The chaotic state of the atmosphere guarantees that. But, we do have averages based on 100 years or so of weather records, giving us “average” highs and lows.
*I do have some concern for the spring of 2016; the 1997-1998 El Nino brought an active tornado season; many remember the April 8, 1998 EF-5 tornado in Birmingham that killed 32 people.
BOTTOM LINE: I know there are many cold weather fans that want snow. But, again, this is Alabama. It doesn’t snow much here… never has, and never will. We are coming off a number of cold winters with very significant winter weather events, and it won’t be like that always. Expect a relatively mild winter with frequent rain producers. Yes, occasional cold shots. And, watch for winter storms that could bring more ice than snow. But, NOBODY knows for sure. We will just have to wait and see.