NOAA: This Winter Will Be Milder Than Last Year’s

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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This winter is looking to be milder than last year’s, when thousands of record low temperatures were set across the country, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center favors “[b]elow average temperatures… in parts of the south-central and southeastern United States, while above-average temperatures are most likely in the western U.S., Alaska, Hawaii and New England.”

“Last year’s winter was exceptionally cold and snowy across most of the United States, east of the Rockies,” CPC predicts.” A repeat of this extreme pattern is unlikely this year, although the [CPC’s outlook] does favor below-average temperatures in the south-central and southeastern states.”

“In addition, the Temperature Outlook favors warmer-than-average temperatures in the Western U.S., extending from the west coast through most of the inter-mountain west and across the U.S.-Canadian border through New York and New England, as well as Alaska and Hawaii,” CPC says. “The rest of the country falls into the “equal chance” category, meaning that there is not a strong enough climate signal for these areas to make a prediction, so they have an equal chance for above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures and/or precipitation.”

CPC also predicts a 67 percent chance of an El Niño developing by the end of this year, but CPC says “this El Niño is expected to be weak.”

Are They Right?

A milder winter sounds nice, but is NOAA’s prediction correct? It’s impossible to know until winter actually hits, but NOAA did make some big errors in trying to predict temperatures last winter.

Joe Bastardi, head meteorologist with Weatherbell Analytics, says that this winter is shaping up to be another cold and snowy winter — maybe even rivalling last winter. Bastardi told The Daily Caller News Foundation that another big winter is still a possibility despite NOAA’s predictions of a mild winter.

Indeed, last year the Farmer’s Almanac made a more accurate prediction than NOAA. Last year, NOAA predicted “above normal from November through January across much of the lower 48 states,” according to Bloomberg.

But this prediction was way off, earning NOAA’s CPC a poor prediction rating of -22 for its November through January forecast and a -23 for its October through December forecast (NOAA’s accuracy scale is between 100 and -50).

“Not one of our better forecasts,” Mike Halpert, the Climate Prediction Center’s acting director, told Bloomberg Businessweek last winter.

The 200-year-old Farmer’s Almanac predicted last winter that “a winter storm will hit the Northeast around the time the Super Bowl is played at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands in New Jersey,” reported CBS News. It also forecast “a colder-than-normal winter for two-thirds of the country and heavy snowfall in the Midwest, Great Lakes and New England,” according to CBS.

“We’re using a very strong four-letter word to describe this winter, which is C-O-L-D. It’s going to be very cold,” Sandi Duncan, the almanac’s managing editor, told CBS News last year.

The Almanac, which claims to be accurate 80 percent of the time, predicts this year’s snowfall to be “above normal in most of the Northeast, although below normal in much of New England” while “Florida will have above-normal rainfall” and “most of the southeastern and central states will have below-normal precipitation.”

“We expect above-normal snowfall from eastern Arizona into the Big Bend of Texas and above-normal rainfall from parts of inland Washington into the northwest corner of Montana and just north of California’s Bay region,” according to the Almanac.

Energy Woes

Energy analysts and meteorologists have worried that another frigid winter could spell disaster for the country’s energy infrastructure. Last winter, power plants went offline during bouts of extreme cold and pipelines were too backed up to get natural gas and propane to consumers who needed them.

Coal power and nuclear energy had to be ramped up to meet booming energy demands last winter while states were short on natural gas supplies. The utility American Electric Power said 90 percent of the coal-fired power plants it planned to shut down had to be ramped up to provide power to households and businesses trying to keep the lights on and stay warm.

Republican lawmakers and some energy regulators have sounded the alarm that massive waves of coal plant retirements may mean the lights could go out during a harsh winter storm.

“The Polar Vortex caused 50,000 megawatts of power plant outages,” said Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. “For one key system, 89 percent of the coal capacity that is slated for retirement next year because of an EPA rule was called upon to meet rising demand. Think about that. We had a tough winter and coal facilities were able to step up.”

“The question we should be asking is, what happens when that capacity is gone? Hoping for a mild winter isn’t a viable strategy. We can’t have a-hope-and-a-prayer policy,” she added.

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