Now that we have already had a taste of winter-like temperatures across all of Arkansas, it’s time to release the highly anticipated winter outlook!
Last year, the Arkansas Storm Team’s winter outlook was for a warm and snowless winter for central Arkansas. Last winter ended nearly 5° above average with only a trace of snowfall in Little Rock. You could say last year’s winter forecast was a success!
This year is looking different! All signs are pointing to a cold and snowy winter.
Let’s talk about those signs and why they could lead to more of the white stuff for us in central Arkansas.
Lately, you may have heard that we are now in an “El Niño” pattern. El Niño is the warm phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). This means sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean along the equator are warmer than normal. Last winter we were in the cold phase, known as “La Niña”. Since we have flipped from La Niña to El Niño, it will likely have an impact on the weather we see.
During the typical El Niño winter, temperatures are warmer than normal in the Northern US and cooler than normal across the Southern US. The South also sees above-average precipitation in this phase. This is caused by the stronger Pacific jet stream. The stronger than normal Pacific Jet allows for storm systems to impact locations farther south than during La Niña.
One good thing about having more southerly storm tracks is severe risks tend to stay farther south.
The Climate Prediction Center has released their winter outlook and they are forecasting this winter to follow the trend of a typical El Niño winter.
El Niño and La Niña aren’t as black and white as they seem. These phases can be strong, moderate, or weak. Looking at the current sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, this year’s El Niño is moderate.
We are not in a strong El Niño because the sea surface temperatures to the north and south of the equator are just slightly cooler than average. During a strong El Niño, the water temperature will be much below average to the north and south of the equator.
What does a moderate El Niño mean for our winter in Central Arkansas?
In order to answer this question we need to look at all the previous winters we were in a moderate El Niño. According to Cimate.gov, since 1950 we have experienced six moderate El Niños. Let’s see if we can find any trends in the temperatures, precipitation, and snowfall from those six winters.
Looking at the data above, there is clearly a trend in all three categories. 6 out of 6 winters had near or below-average temperatures, 5 out of 6 winters had near or above-average precipitation, and 5 out of 6 winters had near or above-average snowfall.
These clear trends say that central Arkansas will likely see a cold, wet, and snowy winter. This is exactly what my forecast calls for!
My official 2023-2024 winter outlook calls for 5-10″ of snowfall, slightly above-average rainfall, and near-average temperatures.
If you love cold and snow, this winter is for you!
– Meteorologist Alex Libby