Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Can El Nino Be a Reliable Predictor of Our Weather?

Now that I reside in California (but still monitor Minnesota weather closely from afar), the mystery of what El Nino holds is a BIG deal given the major drought here. Minnesotans may wonder if it means a "boring" winter with minimal snowfall and cold, but Californians are praying it means a replenishment of modest water supplies.


Source: Climate.gov. Sept. 10 update.

As most of you know, I'm interested in weather and have a wee, wee bit of knowledge, but the main thing I bring to the table is the perspective of the armchair weather enthusiast. From where I sit, I watch all the professionals (and others) make assumptions about what El Nino (and a strong one, at that) likely means for the nation's winter weather. Most of it seems to me to be based on correlation rather than true cause and effect.

For that reason, I personally am skeptical that things will go according to form. I just think weather is way too complicated to predict based on one, albeit significant, warm-water feature. I don't recall anyone predicting that the winter of 2013-2014 would be a record setter. Likewise, most predicted last year to be considerably warmer than it came in. (I speak of Minnesota's weather.)

So, what do you think will happen this winter? Do you think it's too early to know? Do you think there's any reliability whatsoever in seasonal predictions? Let's hear your thoughts!

70 comments:

  1. I wrote this in the other thread right before this one was created so I'll post it here as well. I think a number of you are really overreacting to the thoughts of warm temperatures and a snowless winter. Looking at strictly strong El Nino based winter predictions, the last three winters that could be similar to this winter are 97-98, 87-88, and 82-83. It is true that we are likely to have above average temperatures this winter. Those winters averaged 2-4° above average. That's comparable to having a high temperature in January of 26-28 instead of the average of 24. Could there be a 50° temperature in December or January? Sure, but we'll still have temperatures below zero as well.

    As for snow, MSP had 45" in 97-98, 42.4" in 87-88, and 74.4" in 82-83. Therefore MSP had two strong El Nino winters with snowfall near the 50 year average, and one that was well above average. It's still too early to make a good winter prediction, but the talk of a snowless winter is premature.

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  2. You are forgetting that what has increasingly been more important lately are not so much surface temperatures but 850mb temperatures.
    Those have been trending higher and higher in recent years -- which explains lack of severe weather in summer -- and lack of big snowstorms in winter.
    I expect below 25" snowfall this year.

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  3. So 850mb temperatures never mix to the surface? The winters of 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 weren't well above average snowfall winters?

    Maybe this would make sense for severe weather if Minnesota was dominated by a summertime ridge high pressure, which really hasn't happened since 2012.

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    1. I am not disagreeing with you. I am only trying to offer a different perspective, that I believe should be taken into consideration in this El-Nino debate.
      The point I am trying to make is that recent snowfalls in the area have increasingly come in the form of several 2-3 inch clipper storms, rather than the nice panhandle hookers etc that delivered 6+ inches. And not because such storms did not form but because they have been increasingly warmer.
      So, since an El-Nino pattern tends to limit north-west flow and therefore clippers, you are probably less likely to have above average snowfall because southern storms are less likely to come in much warmer (like they have in the past few years, independently of El-Nino).
      You are correct that there were EL-Nino years in the past like 82-83 that delivered above average snowfall, but that period was also the peak of the 30-year snow cycles (83-84 was the snowiest ever, 81-82 the second snowiest ever).
      In short, I feel that as southern moisture has come in warmer and warmer lately, an El-Nino patter may not give us enough clippers to offset that.
      And by the way, I am a snow-lover so I really hope to be wrong, but that's the way I see it.

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    2. 2-3" clipper storms have always been the source for the majority of the Twin Cities snowfall. MSP only averages 1, 6"+ snowfall per winter. If you have data saying that warmer 850mb temperatures are increasing, therefore decreasing the Twin Cities snowfall, I'd love to see it.

      You are generally right about the El Nino pattern, but with western troughs more likely into California/southern plains, this would actually give us a better chance that a bigger storm with more moisture could affect us in Minnesota. This is what we've been lacking for the last several years, including during severe weather season. 82-83 and 97-98 are the two strongest El Nino's we've had. Even with the general pattern you mentioned they both managed to produce average to above average snowfall.

      Our lack of severe weather in Minnesota over the past several years has rarely been due to warm 850mb temps essentially capping the atmosphere, and more due to lack of heating/instability when we actually get enough wind shear.

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  4. Not quite sure how are winter will play out with El Nino this year....for sure temps will run above average, as for snowfall it can go either way. I can see both scenarios mentioned above playing out where we go below average due to less clippers or above average due to more southern moisture rich storms affecting us, if the latter plays out I am concerned those storms will be more of a "mix" storms due to our warmer winter.....as always time will tell.

    On a side note I dont make too many predictions on here, but here goes two of them: I see MSP hitting 70° at least one more time this October AND I dont not see MSP recording a frost this October(32° or lower).
    BTW...thanks Bill for the new thread.

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  5. @bigdaddy, looks like your 70 degree prediction will come true as there will be several opportunties to hit it in the next 7 days, in fact dont be surprised if we touch 80. As far as your frost prediction goes I agree it will be severely delayed this year, with average being 10/7, I believe we get frost somewhere around the third week.

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  6. In case you missed it, El Nino has arrived in Minnesota this week. Enjoy it because your winter will have plenty of +10 to +20 degree days in it. Not much of a winter this year in Minny.

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    1. That's what I believe too.
      Never mind Dave Dahl's wishful thinking snow-o-meter at 51.9.
      (By the way did you guys notice how all of a sudden he switched to the 30-year average (54.7") whilst until last year he was using all records available? (average around 45"). I think he did it so that he could get his usually 'high' prediction and still make it look as a 'below average' because of El-Nino.
      In any case, as I was saying, never mind that.
      I really believe this year we can seriously challenge the least snowy winter ever. From that perspective at least, it will be interesting to monitor.

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  7. Dave Dahl's KSTP blog hints at possible snow around Halloween somewhere in Minnesota. Something to keep an eye on.....temps do cool off next but cold enough for snow?,.. not sure about that.

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  8. First mention of snow in this evenings CWA discussion from NWS for latter half of next week. Our charmed weather life soon to end?...perhaps

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  9. While El Nino/La Nina patterns can be major drivers in overall seasonal patterns, every one of them is different in their own way. A lot are comparing the strength of this years to the one of 97-98. This year's is certainly a strong one, but the 97-98 one was stronger, and the warmest of the water was centered differently than this years. So while strength may be similar, I certainly wouldn't look at that winter and think it will be similar.

    El Nino's typically do promote more of a split flow, with the southern jet being more active and the northern jet staying somewhat bottled up in Canada. So, even if we do get a buckle in the southern jet and a system heads up this way, it may not have the arctic source of air that is needed for snow. If it does end up being cold enough for snow, it will probably be short lived. I personally think we'll be lucky to see 40 inches of snow during meteorological winter. California will make a little dent in their drought, but they are so far behind that it is pretty much impossible to get them out of drought status in one season. The south will stay active as well, with storms likely traveling across the central and southern plains, and eventually up the east coast. Those hoping for a really snowy winter are probably going to be disappointed. It's just my opinion, but we'll see how it all plays out.

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  10. Novak weather is back everyone. the first travel impact is out and no one is talking. https://www.facebook.com/NovakWeather/photos/a.177151895703176.44970.177146689037030/873972992687726/?type=3&theater

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    1. Because not much will happen in and around the metro except for wet roads and some flakes mixing in. Up north may get an 1-2" but who cares the 60's return for November. El Nino in full effect.

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    2. Another El Nino driven factor, first ten days of November will be above average with a lot of 50's and 60's littered around.

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  11. Remember folks. Every El Nino is different. Don't look just at the fact that there is an El Nino, but ocean temps elsewhere are also major drivers in weather patterns. There have been snowy and cold El Nino's and there has been warm and dry El Nino's. As I mentioned above, this version will likely be the latter of the two. Whatever winter we do have this year will likely come in the later part of it, rather than the early.

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  12. Blowtorch El Nino starts with a blowtorch November with 60's and 70's in Minnesota right on que for NOV 1st. Shall we start talking about brown Thanksgiving and Christmas, very possible in this pattern.

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  13. I would go out on a limb and actually predict not just a brown Christmas and Thanksgiving but a mostly brown winter.
    I would be really surprised to see consistent snow cover this year.
    Even if we get significant snow events I expect that we would get more spells than usual with above freezing temperatures that would deplete the snow pack.

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    1. I sooo hope you are right! I'm dreaming of a brown Christmas..and winter in general...However, definitely saw some large white flakes mixed in with tonight's rain. Hope there's NO blanket of snow tomorrow morning! MM ;-)

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  14. NWS says potential for snow late week after 70° a day before. Must be a powerful cold front, I'm not buying it though.

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  15. Models currently showing a mild bias into the year 2025.

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    1. I think there's a typo there.
      I am sure you meant 2075 :)

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  16. CPC's 6-10-day outlook is saying we have a 80-90% chance of above normal temperatures. 8-14 day is 70-80%.

    Shaping up to be a beautiful autumn!

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  17. SNOW! SNOW! SNOW! COLD! COLD! COLD! SNOW! SNOW! SNOW! COLD! COLD! COLD! SNOW! SNOW! SNOW! COLD! COLD! COLD! SNOW! SNOW! SNOW!COLD! COLD! COLD! SNOW! SNOW! SNOW!COLD! COLD! COLD! SNOW! SNOW! SNOW!COLD! COLD! COLD! SNOW! SNOW! SNOW!COLD! COLD! COLD! SNOW! SNOW! SNOW!

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  18. Where's all the hype? I'm hungry for some serious winter weather hype like filled with words like "threatening", "crippling," "life threatening," "vortex," "surging south," "pounding," "pummeling," "blanketing" and "targeting." Also, I'm shocked I haven't heard mention of the October '91 blizzard yet. Surely there's someone out there who's just waiting to compare some potential storm to the '91 blizzard, right? Right? I NEED HYPE!

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  19. Bill, El Nino is alive and well in Minnesota. 1-2" of RAIN on November 11, not 1-2' of snow. Not even one flake.

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  20. There was some awesome lightning tonight! This has been one of the best storms of the year!

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  21. Plymouth Weather LoverNovember 12, 2015 at 12:01 PM

    What an awesome storm the last two days. And the forecasters nailed it! I hope that the accuracy of this storm forecast will be a picture of what will (hopefully) come with some big winter snowstorms. This extended fall has been great--green grass deep in November, weekends turning out amazing, and little to no reason to wear a heavy jacket. As we close into Thanksgiving time, let's just make one thing clear. I am ready........BRING IT!!!!

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    1. If it had been cold enough for snow, the storm would have certainly found a way to miss the core MSP metro area as it usually happens.

      Still pretty confident this winter we are going to challenge the record for least snowy ever.

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    2. Yep mother nature is BRINGING another El Nino rainstorm to Minnesota next week. Snow will be an oddity this year, either it will storm with rain or mix being the predominant precip or the heavy snow events will sail south of us. Enjoy the brown this year.

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  22. As usual another "warm" storm with rain, followed by cold enough air for snow. One problem, no moisture for snow. I see how this winter is going to play out already after only two November storms, warm air out ahead of the storm causing rain or mix/sleet or your token dusting to an inch or two followed by cold/arctic and dry cold to follow until the next storm/warm air.

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    1. Amen Sam, you nailed it! Next weekend even looks to remain below freezing with no snow, guaranteed when precip happens again after this cool down it won't be ALL snow.

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    2. Exactly right.
      I have been saying this since June, and got 'bashed' by all those 'pseudo' experts that the only thing they do is rely 100% on models that are usually wrong and lost a 'feel' for the weather.
      It is NOT going to be a snowy winter. Actually I am getting even more confident that we won't see any consistent snow cover this winter.

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  23. Interesting to see what the GFS,GEM and ECMWF are depicting over the next 10 days as they agree in bringing a decent cold shot compared to normal in the 4-7 day quickly followed by a brief warm up. What they show in the 8-10 day is a deep trough digging into the SW US ( a classic -PNA) with ridging passing over us resulting in the brief warm up.

    As this trough digs in and starts to progress over the Rockies the ridging should move to our east but gets hung up by ridging near Greenland, almost a classic -NAO block. At the same time a very strong ridge develops over the Gulf of Alaska which creates the -EPO, which in turn allows cold air to bleed into the lower 48 from the NW. This - EPO ridge looks to be far enough to the west, that the cold air will settle into our west instead of to our east over the great lakes.

    Confidence is above average for a 10-14 day forecast maybe around 5 out of a 10 chance that it is right. If so Thanksgiving Day weekend could get interesting somewhere close to home.

    PNA= Pacific North American Oscillation
    NAO= North Atlantic Oscillation
    EPO= Eastern Pacific Oscillation.

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    1. With all due respect Randy, cold and dry after Wednesday. Cosmetic flurries aside.

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  24. Above average 40's return next week with a brown Thanksgiving in play, in fact more rain can fall again. El Nino has a stranglehold on Minnesota already. Looking for snow? Go to Denver, or any place in northern Iowa, Milwaukee and Chicago get in on the fun as well.

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    1. Anybody left who seriously expects some snow this winter?
      Let me try to make it clearer once and for all:
      NO SNOW THIS WINTER!

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    2. Ok, that statement is just beyond ridiculous. Of course it is going to snow at some point this winter. It snows every winter. We've never gone a winter without seeing some type of snow. Whether or not it sticks around for a while is another story, but we will see snow this winter.

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    3. if you mean those ridiculous cosmetic flurries that we get every once in a while that add to 0.2-0.4 of an inch at best then you are possibly correct.
      I mean 'real' snow, that creates consistent snow cover.
      We won't get that this year. It's a no brainer.

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  25. Don't worry guys. Only two short months until snow-loving native-born Minnesotans ask, "Why do we still live here?"

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  26. NWS already hinting at what I said earlier. They say above average temperatures as we head towards Thanksgiving with another large storm system in the middle of the country. Translation=more November el nino driven rain!

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  27. Randy, I couldn't agree with you more. Nice write-up.

    Model guidance is hinting at ridging poleward & this would force Arctic air south well into the lower 48. No doubt in my mind that a major Winter Storm will strike a good chunk of the U.S. somewhere near or just after Thanksgiving. Way too far out to give details.

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  28. Seriously, frickin' NAM. Nothing like throwing a wrench in our Friday expectations with the 00z run.

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  29. The overall pattern that the models are showing developing around Thanksgiving would tend to lead a person to believe that a storm system of some sort will be developing somewhere close to home. Big trough crashing into the west and making its trek across the US. We get into a southerly flow ahead of it to help pump moisture into it, and cold air filling in behind. From a climatology standpoint, it certainly makes sense. I echo Novak's thoughts on a system developing. We've already seen a couple systems develop with previous troughs that have moved through, but no cold air for those.

    Even if we do get snow during that time, I'm still not holding my breath for it to stick around through Christmas. December is still shaping up to be a pretty warm month overall, although it might be a cold start to the month. As far as Friday goes with the NAM, I'm just not buying into its solution. Snow will fall close to Minnesota, but at this point I think the I-90 corridor to the I-80 corridor will be where the snow area generally sets up, with the bulk of it being in Iowa. If things change, I'm sure this feed will provide the details. As of now though, the NAM is the odd ball out for the end of this week.

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  30. Right on que another storm later on Friday, heads too far south and the metro is left with a cosmetic dusting at best, but don't despair snowlovers there is another storm around Thanksgiving(which the experts on this forum alluded to, Duane\Novak/Randy) but what they didn't mention was this storm too will warm us up again this be rain with a cosmetic dusting to a 1" on the back side if were lucky. I'm not a metrologist but this November has shown us our winter pattern , not hard to see people that snow will be a rarity this winter. Warmth out ahead of storms good bing us rain or mix with little snow on the back end or all snow systems slide south of the metro.

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  31. It is still way too early to even give much for details regarding that storm. The way the models have it now, yeah it wouldn't be an ideal track for snow. However, that one is so far out, that there will still be big swings in that track (if the system even forms at all). That is more of a "stay tuned" type system.

    I still like my initial thoughts on the end of week system (I-90 to I-80 snow band). The models will start getting better data with that system coming ashore, so the differences that are there now will hopefully all be sorted out. Unless something drastic happens, the bulk of this one will sail well south of the metro area.

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  32. Nobody really ever thought, except maybe 'hype-it-now backtrack-the-day-before' Novak, that this system would ever be a factor for the metro. When storms are able to push north enough to impact it, they bring warm air as well. So either dry and cold, or rain. The Thanksgiving storm will be an example of a storm that will probably get north enough, and also will be warm enough to bring rain with it.
    Still really surprised that people still do not get it: it ain't going to snow this winter in the MSP metro.

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  33. Plymouth Weather LoverNovember 19, 2015 at 12:32 PM

    Hey Anonymous at 12:16: You can probably say a lot of things on this blog without Bill pulling it off--he is great at allowing reasonable comments to stay on here. But I am going to not-so-respectfully disagree with how you labeled Novak. I follow the weather as much or more than any other amatuer weather person I know. He has been one of the most accurate (if not the top) when if comes to calling out storms, using the data to prove his predictions, and rarely is he off. And, when he is off, everyone is off. Maybe back off a notch and still go ahead and make your predictions that are "winter-long" predictions with no snow in your entire winter forecast. Easy to type that, but consider the idea of not ripping on others with no evidence to back it up. Thanks.

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    1. You asked for evidence, I will provide it to you and Bill as far as Novak tendency to play -up a storm to get interest and then back-track the day before.There is plenty of it. Believe me. Just give some time to put it together from this and other sources.
      As far as my prediction of no snow this winter (I am the same anonymous who has mentioned a few weeks ago that we are really going to challenge the record for least-snowiest winter ever) I stand by it. As a biologist I see plenty of clues in how certain animals and plants are getting ready.
      If then you and especially Bill only want only PC on this blog, it is absolutely his prerogative as the 'owner', just let me know and I will suspend any further commentary; but I would point out that a discussion blog should be open to dissenting opinions.

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    2. Anonymous at 1:39 PM, please provide some details of what clues you see in animals and plants that support your prediction. It sounds like a different perspective that we could learn from. But for us to learn, you need to share what you know.

      It would also be great if you posted under Name/URL (just leave URL blank). Then I could follow your posts to understand your position and readers could identify your posts. Pick any name, just be consistent. Thanks.

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    3. I'm not a PC guy but it's important that the tone be constructive and not personal. Thanks for the support, Jason!

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  34. Thanks, Plymouth Weather Lover. You're exactly right in your response to the Anonymous comment. May constructive, considerate debate rule this blog.

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  35. PWL, I agree. I come here for the educational and fun discussions regarding weather. I enjoy learning how to understand the weather patterns, what data to review, and to see who is forecasting well. Its too bad so many comments are now from anonymous writers who provide no educational input but just general, negative statements. Thanks again Bill for keeping the site going despite your lack of winter fun now.

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  36. Hahahahaha, pushing 50 next week and people are talking winter storm, yep there will be one nearby but Minneapolis gets a third rainstorm in November, while points south receive all snow. Pathetic!

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  37. To the forum....it seems like MSP will miss out on significant snow or any snow for that matter.....but is it appropriate of Dave Dahl to tweet out that Rochester will receive 9" when their not even under a advisory?

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  38. WOW!....Anyone read the CWA discussion this morning on the NWS website....what Randy/Novak/Duane alluded to for Thanksgiving week may play out...but their hinting at several days of storminess with a colder atmosphere... can MSP finally get snow?...time will tell!

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  39. What is the single most important predictor of how much snow a given location gets?
    Geography of course.
    Well, sadly for snow lovers MSP does not fair pretty good on this measure.
    It sits in a snow 'no-man's-land', missing storms to the south (being too far north) and the big snows to the north (being too far south).
    We see this happening every winter. Snow lovers despair everytime a big snow storm stays south but that is actually the norm. If you really are a snow lover then MSP is not the right choice of places to live (assuming you have a choice).
    A few years ago Bill put together an index that showed how unlucky MSP is given its latitude and averages in the snow department. A lot of useless cold.
    Now, you may argue winters are not even that cold anymore, but is a different issue.
    Bottom line is: MSP is not a snowy place given its average temperatures because its geographic location is poor for snow.

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    1. Statistically speaking you have to be within say 50-100 miles (experts correct me here if needed) from the low to get the big snow. Since the US is pretty big, storms can get so many tracks that any single location on average would miss more than they get. Most locations to the south of MSP have average snowfall which is lower than MSP. So not sure your theory is correct because you are comparing MSP (a single location) with a lot of locations to the south. So of course a larger real estate will be more likely to be hit at some point. But if you compared MSP to a single location then I am sure the ratio of misses / hits is probably similar.

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  40. First of all this post is not indicative of the climate here at MSP as we have a higher average snowfall per year than almost any city in Iowa, nor is it about geographical location.

    The major reason that I mentioned in my last post that chances were no better than 50/50 for a winter storm somewhere close to home was the orientation of the upper and mid level trough. While I was convinced that a major trough would form over the western US it's impossible to say if it would have a negative or positive tilt to it. A negative tilt means the trough would be orientated from NW to SE and a positive tilt would mean it would lean from SW to NE. A negative tilt would mean that the storm would be stronger and more likely to cut up from Lacrosse to Green Bay with precip on the back side where the cold air would be.

    Currently most models are showing a strong positive tilt to the trough, which means most of the energy from the SW will eject out in pieces instead of one piece. Because of this the storm will not be strong enough to hold the cold air back and most precip will fall to our southeast as the cold air wins the battle.

    Time will tell, but I would now say that a storm system disrupting holiday travel is now about 30%. One thing I am absolutely sure of is this. If the storm misses us to the south it has nothing to do with the climate of MSP or its geographical location.

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  41. When you place your neck out on a line & deviate from the status quo (i.e. - simply go with MOS data from the GFS/NAM) you are going to catch some heat from people who simply don't understand Meteorology. I'm OK with that.

    As far as hyping a storm is concerned, I believe that it is important to give the public a head's up well before the onset of a storm system. For instance, people are already attempting to plan their travel for the Thanksgiving holiday. It is highly irresponsible to NOT give them some weather scenarios this far in advanced, esp. when there is some consensus with model data solutions. Of course, you can't be too detailed this far out, but you can provide a blueprint.

    A good & responsible weather forecaster is NOT one that can consistently nail a 4cast well in advance down to the exact mile; that is not realistic. In reality, a good 4caster is one who is not lazy & is always combing through weather data to come up with the most reasonable solution as a storm approaches. That means that your 4cast is going to change & evolve even hours/minutes/seconds before a storm hits. How you convey your message is the key. You must be a good communicator. We have a ton of good weather 4casters on this board who are fantastic communicators.

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    1. Well said. This is what I try to explain to people who get frustrated with mets "hyping" storms.

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  42. As far as the Thanksgiving holiday storm is concerned, this storm system has the potential to be quite large & needs to be closely monitored.

    Large, churning trough out west promises to eject pieces of energy NE towards MN/WI. It will be interesting to see if one of these pieces of energy eventually becomes the parent & develops a full scale mid-latitude cyclone over the region. If that happens, then somebody is going to get hammered with ice & snow.

    Randy is correct, it will be important for this trough to turn negatively at some point later next week. That would create more frontogenesis across the tight baroclinic boundary that will exist across the Upper Midwest. In other words, we need that boundary to twist if we want excitement across our area.

    Right now, there is no way that anyone can predict exactly what will happen next WED, THUR & FRI since that boundary will be close to home. Anything could happen. One thing appears certain, this will be a fun situation to watch.

    How do you like them apples Anonymous? ;-)

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  43. Never understood anyone ripping Novak. I enjoy the predictions and understand how hard these winter storms are to nail down. Hope everyone hangs around for the debate. And Bill, we need a new thread for the potential Turkey Day storm!

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  44. Gotta love today's 12z GFS solution for THUR pm. 60° in se MN & 10° in nw MN. Nice thermal ribbon to feed on if that verifies.

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  45. I fully expect this T'giving storm to be hyped by many and forecasted by others with a calmer demeanor. I agree with Novak that "how you communicate your message is key." One example of a met I respect, at least in the area of how forecasts are communicated - even large storms, is Ken Barlow. Also, from the same station: Jonathan Yuhas. They sound the same whether it's 1 inch or 20 inches. No big words like "bullseye" or "threaten" or "ready to pounce" or an overuse of capital letters. Just the facts. And no bias. They don't use the words "fortunate" when referring to MSP being in the heavy zone for precip.

    Anyway, I know many posters on here are good at this too. Just waned to throw out a couple other names of guys who communicate their forecasts well.

    On the naughty list of "hype": Dave Dahl. :)

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