Expect a warmer spring, NOAA says

Posted at 3:25 PM, Mar 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-16 15:25:51-04

If you were expecting April showers this spring, you might just be in for a surprise

With the first day of the new season coming up fast, most Americans can look forward to next month being warm rather than wet. That’s according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center — which released its seasonal outlook Thursday.

The outlook — which covers April, May and June — says that most of the country should be expecting normal precipitation levels and much higher than normal temperatures.

Above-average temperatures are expected for a large area of the United States and there are no areas that are expected to have below-average temperatures, said Jon Gottschalck, chief of the operational prediction branch at the center.

The predictions of warmer than normal temperatures come just after millions were hit by heavy snow in the Northeast. Just as many people in the United States began dusting off their grills and putting out their spring patio furniture, winter decided to make an unwelcome return. As cherry trees blossomed and grass turned green, many places in New York and Pennsylvania received more than 3 feet of snow. Winter sent a huge message to not pull out those flip flops quite yet.

The flood risk is predicted to be similar to the last few years, according to Tom Graziano, director of NOAA’s Office of Water Prediction. But since flooding is the leading cause of weather-related deaths, those in higher-risk areas should remain alert.

These predictions are based on “Short-term climate prediction models (that) provide an assessment of temperature and precipitation further out in time,” according to Graziano.

But models aren’t always right. For example, last year’s winter outlook missed the mark on a few things, including flooding in California.

Temperature roller coaster

In mid-December, the Climate Prediction Center put out its winter outlook. Temperatures were predicted to be above normal for most of the East Coast and southern states, with cooler temperatures in the Pacific Northwest and points east. many of those predictions proved to be true. However, they did not anticipate the record high temperatures that impacted many of the areas that were forecasted to be cooler.

The city of Chicago went all of January and February without any snow on the ground, an unprecedented streak in the 146 years of record keeping for the city. Many areas along the Eastern Seaboard experienced record warmth, breaking records by 10 degrees Fahrenheit or more.

Per the National Climatic Data Center, “Thirty-six states were much warmer than average, with Louisiana and Texas having their warmest winter on record.” In fact, in late February and early March, thousands of records were broken east of the Rockies, only to have a freezing wake-up call two weeks later.

Pouring rain

The Climate Prediction Center projected above-average precipitation for the northern half of the US for the winter. The southern portion of the US was projected to see less than normal precipitation — from Southern California to the Southeast coast.

While the North did see above normal rainfall, the forecast missed the mark on California’s deluge. Southern California had record rainfall after back-to-back-to-back winter storms that resulted in major flooding and landslides.

One reason this forecast could have been a bit off was because many were forecasting La Niña to take over for part of the winter months, when in fact, it didn’t. If anything, a slight El Niño was still present, which resulted in more rain for California.

The onslaught of winter storms brought major relief from the drought for the western United States; as of March 7, less than 7% of the region had persisting drought conditions. California saw the biggest improvement. at the start of December, 75% of the state was in drought. Three months later, only 10% of the state is in drought.

Long-range forecasts aren’t always perfect

It’s hard to forecast more than five days out with great accuracy — forecasting three months out is an even greater challenge.

Sometimes, the writing is on the wall: When there is a very strong El Niño or La Niña, the forecasts tend to be more accurate because forecasters have a better idea of what the trends will be. When there’s no such clear sign forecasting can be extremely challenging. Just as we’ve seen with hurricane seasonal outlooks, Mother Nature can have a mind of her own.