Outlook for Winter 2019-20

This article first appeared in the Jackson Hole News & Guide on Sept. 11, 2019

I get it all the time, starting in late August, when I am the grocery store, out hiking on the trail, from people passing in the opposite direction while on my mountain bike. I can’t seem to go anywhere this time of year without being asked, “What kind of winter are we going to have?”

I realize it wouldn’t look good professionally if I simply replied, “I don’t know”. But to be honest, I really don’t know. Mainly because I haven’t been thinking about snow, especially when it was still 80-degrees and sunny outside.

With all that asking, I decided I better sit down and see what the long-range outlooks are saying. So, for this week’s column, I’ll provide you with three individual outlooks for Winter 2019-20 for the Rocky Mountain region. And also review what they said about last winter’s weather (2018-19), so you may gauge their accuracy.

Farmers Forecasts First

There are two main weather Almanacs available, both with a long history of weather prognostications, the Farmers’ Almanac and the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

The Farmers’ Almanac is calling for “Frigid and Snowy” for all of Montana, Wyoming and Colorado this coming winter. That sounds good for us. Utah comes under the heading of, “Cool, and Normal Precipitation”.

Last winter, The Farmers’ Almanac’s forecast for Wyoming was, “Teeth-chattering cold and Snowy”. Fact is, it actually was much colder than normal in Jackson last winter, along with above average snowfall, mainly due to the record snowfall we had in February 2019.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s outlook for this coming winter says exactly what you would want to hear if you are a winter sports enthusiast, “Low Temps, Deep Powder”. That forecast is valid for southern and central Idaho, most of western Wyoming and Colorado, as well as, all of Nevada and Utah.

The Old Farmer’s also has northern Wyoming and all of Montana under a forecast that says simply, “A Parade of Snowstorms”. Seems like a can’t-miss situation for Jackson Hole!

How did the Old Farmer’s Almanac do with last winter’s prediction for our area? Their forecast for Winter 2018-19 was, “Mild and Snowy”. OK, so they missed on the temperatures, but nailed it by saying “Snowy”.

Climate Prediction Center

I could pretty much cut and paste the forecast from last winter from the Climate Prediction Center (CPC), a division of NOAA, and plug it in here for this coming winter.

The CPC’s latest prediction for December 2019 through February 2020, issued on August 15th of this year, calls for a 55-percent chance of warmer than normal temperatures over western Wyoming. Bucking the cold trend the two almanacs are predicting.

The CPC also has western Wyoming under what they call “Equal Chances” for above normal or below normal precipitation for Winter 2019-20. Not nearly as encouraging as the two Farmers forecasts.

If you are keeping score, the CPC was wrong about temperatures last winter, it was not warmer than normal, it was much colder than normal. Their prediction on precipitation was also non-committal last year, “Equal Chances”.

Come on CPC! Stick your neck out and go one way or the other. Call it “above” or “below” normal precip, you still end up with a 50-percent chance of being right!

No Nino

One of the final indicators of winter weather is the ENSO forecast, the El Nino Southern Oscillation. Last winter we were in a weak El Nino and were not supposed to be cold or snowy.  Based on that predictor, we should have seen warm and dry conditions in the northern Rockies. It was quite the opposite.

This winter, the “consensus” among NOAA’s ENSO forecasters is that the current “Neutral” conditions in the Equatorial Pacific, which began in July, will continue through the Northern Hemisphere Winter 2019-20.

What does that mean for us? Absolutely nothing. Why do I say that? Because, we have had above normal snowfall in the mountains for the last 5 out of 6 winters, while under El Nino, La Nina, and No Nino (Neutral) conditions. Therefore, at this point I have to discount the ENSO as an indicator.

Any Other Questions?

There you have it, that’s everything I know about how this winter might shape up. So, the next time someone asks, “What’s kind of winter are we going to have?”, I can simply answer, “Haven’t you read my column in the Jackson Hole News and Guide?”

Jim is the chief meteorologist at mountainweather.com and has provided a weather forecast for Jackson Hole and the Teton Range for over 25 years.