Don’t listen to the doomers.
Yes, winter is coming. But in stark contrast to viral social media posts, viewed, for example, by millions on TikTok, professional weather forecasters don’t expect the coming winter of 2034-2024 to be particularly brutal. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expects much of the U.S. will be warmer than usual, with no clear signs of an overall colder-than-average winter elsewhere. But it will still be winter — Earth rotates on a tilted axis, meaning the Northern Hemisphere receives less sunlight amid its winter months.
“Overall, during the whole winter season, it’s probably going to be a warmer than normal winter,” Jon Gottschalck, chief of the Operational Prediction Branch at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, told Mashable. “But it’s still going to be cold. You’re still going to have Arctic outbreaks and cold snaps.”
(Even during a warmer winter, blasts of freezing Arctic air swoop down into the Lower 48 from time to time.)
Below is NOAA’s winter 2023-2024 temperature and precipitation forecasts for the U.S. Crucially, the forecast is based on probabilities of these environmental circumstances occurring (the reasons why are discussed below), as opposed to a certain outcome. The reddish shades show the likelihood of above-average temperatures, and “average” means U.S. climate averages between 1991–2020. (NOAA updates these averages each decade.)
“The greatest odds for warmer-than-average conditions are in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and northern New England,” NOAA said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s winter forecast for 2023-2024. Credit: NOAA
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s precipitation winter forecast for 2023-2024. Credit: NOAA
If you come across popular videos, with millions of views and hundreds of thousands of “likes,” similar to the viral posts below, you can certainly believe it (or enjoy the fun of it) if you want, but it doesn’t match with the work of professional weather forecasters, who in recent years have generally made impressively accurate forecasts in a scientific discipline that has vastly advanced this century.
The 2023-24 winter forecast
NOAA’s seasonal forecasts don’t make daily or weekly weather predictions (meteorologists need more recent global weather observations for such near forecasts, and there’s a limit on how far future weather can be predicted), but are particularly useful for many industries that want to make the best plans for the likeliest weather conditions. For example, it will likely be rainy in the Southeast this winter.
“These outlooks provide critical guidance on the upcoming season for many industries and sectors of our economy, from energy producers to commodities markets to agricultural interests to tourism,” Sarah Kapnick, NOAA’s chief scientist, said in a statement.
A number of factors influenced this winter’s forecast. Some major influences include:
El Niño: “One of the main drivers is El Niño,” Gottschalck said. This is an oceanic climate pattern where warmer temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean (which covers a large swathe of Earth’s surface) significantly affect weather in the U.S. During El Niño years, the northern U.S. and Canada are often dryer and warmer than usual, and overall more air from the Pacific Ocean, as opposed to the Arctic, travels over the U.S. This moderates temperatures, Gottschalck explained. El Niño conditions also drive storms farther south, resulting in wetter-than-usual conditions across southern portions of the Lower 48, which is reflected in this year’s winter forecast.
Rising temperatures and climate change: Earth’s baseline temperature continues to rise as the heat-trapping gas carbon dioxide rises in the atmosphere (CO2 levels are now at their highest levels in at least 800,000 years, but more likely millions of years). As a consequence, recent years and decades have grown increasingly warmer. “The past nine years have been the warmest years since modern recordkeeping began in 1880,” NASA said.
Accordingly, winter is warming, which impacted this seasonal forecast. “There’s long-term rising temperature trends. Those can’t be ignored.” Gottschalck said.
“Since 1896, average winter temperatures across the contiguous 48 states have increased by nearly 3°F,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency noted, citing NOAA data.
This NASA graph shows skyrocketing atmospheric CO2 levels in recent years, compared to the last 800,000 years. Credit: NASA
If you want a closer breakdown of the seasonal forecast where you live, you can visit NOAA’s Climate Prediction webpage which offers an interactive map showing temperature and precipitation probabilities.
And if you’d like a more precise forecast for closer-approaching dates over the winter months, watch NOAA’s six to 10 day outlooks: They’re a valuable asset for winter planning.
In short: Watch NOAA and National Weather Service outlooks, bring a coat, and always have a healthy distrust of “facts” on social media.