Winter’s Coming, But Is Snow?

Despite the fact that winter officially starts on December 22nd, the cold is slowly closing in on New Jersey. By extension, so is the winter weather forecast. While not guaranteed to be accurate or even particularly close to accurate, the winter weather forecast has a scientific basis that makes it a source of merit. The main factor in the 2015-2016 winter weather forecast is the phenomenon of El Niño. El Niño is an irregularly occurring and complex series of climatic changes affecting weather patterns and is characterized by above average ocean temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

While El Niño will have a large influence over the weather in the United States, it isn’t clear what this means for the weather in New Jersey. Despite El Niño patterns having been studied for its past 18 occurrences, there isn’t enough data on its effect on the East Coast to draw conclusions.

The data collected also shows no real pattern. Out of the El Niño occurrences, there have been two winters in which NJ had twice the average amount of snowfall, two with the average amount, and one with far less than the average. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center forecasts a warmer, wetter winter due to a strong El Niño, but their prediction is shaky and vague due to the unpredictability of El Niño’s effects. Another meteorologist crew, Weather Works, similarly predicted a warmer winter based on El Niño. Based on the New Jersey winter of 1982-83, when a strong El Niño resulted in warmer temperatures, Weather Works also stated that despite the warmer temperatures predicted, less snow is not a certainty. That February, a massive storm resulted in more than two feet of snow.

However, the El Niño isn’t the only factor considered in the forecast. Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental research, has studied the correlation between Siberian winters and those of New Jersey. He’s found that they are directly related in that snowy and colder Siberian Octobers result in snowy and colder New Jersey winters. This October, Siberia has had above average snowfall, which, contrary to El Niño’s implications, indicates that a colder winter is in store.

While there is debate over the general range of temperature, amount of snowfall, and general storminess that the 2015-2016 winter will bring, there is one point of consolation in all the predictions: while possibly cold, the upcoming winter will not be as brutal as the past two, which have been placed among the coldest in recent history.