I could fib and tell you I haven’t been anxiously awaiting this day for months now, but I won’t do that; I am a weather geek, after all.
Joe Bastardi of Weatherbell.com made a post on his subscription site this morning, going in depth about the upcoming winter with a preliminary winter outlook post. I will refrain from calling it a forecast, because this far out, that’s a tough target to hit. But Joe has always done a great job of presenting what the models are showing and contrasting that against historic analogs as well as climate factors he believes will be present and influence things in the months ahead.
First, I will share a few things I have found in public forums. The first is the latest JAMSTEC model for the upcoming winter. This represents the months of December, January and February and we all need to cross our fingers for this projection to come to pass:
As Bastardi might say, ‘BINGO! FRONT ROW!’
That is a thing of beauty. Bastardi tweeted out this quip, pursuant to the projection above:
‘JAMSTEC neutral signal now, kills La Nina, has much colder winter as warm ring in Pacific re-asserts winter control (13-14,14-15)’
TRANSLATION: The JAMSTEC modeling is not projecting the La Nina to take hold, meaning the upcoming winter will have neither an El Nino or La Nina present…in other words, La Nada. The lack of these major climate influences clears the way for other impact factors, and in Bastardi’s preliminary look at the upcoming winter, he concurs with the call for cold over much of North America. The fact that he mentions the winters of 2013-2014 (the Holy Grail) and 2014-2015 (a solid winter for our business in its own right) are downright encouraging.
Here are a few more public comments I came across in recent days, from Meteorologists on twitter who were commenting on the JAMSTEC projection shared above:
“New JAMSTEC is out for upcoming Winter and its all out cold & stormy! Squashed idea of #LaNina”
“-With the persistent +PDO, a neutral to slightly neg ENSO is a Great Lakes snow lover’s friend for sure.”
Here is an image for the winter from Ohio Meteorologist Scott Sabol, which is a bit more fine tuned than the JAMSTEC:
The blues and purples measure temperature departures from ‘normals’ and in the case of these colors, we are talking below normal. When it comes to home heating demand for propane, in large amounts, it would be hard to draw up a target map much better than this for the majority of the industry.
Now, back to Bastardi. While I cannot share much of his write up, as it is behind a paywall, he is buying into the ‘no La Nina’ for two primary reasons. One is low solar activity and the second is a warm (or positive) PDO.
I have written about low solar activity in the past in this space. This is in reference to sunspot activity. The sun has been quiet as of late pursuant to sunspots. The sun vascilates between minimum and maximum periods, 11-year cycles. At the peak of these cycles, you have a lot of sunspots and that has correleated with warmer earth periods. The opposite is true in the valleys of these 11-year cycles; fewer sunspots, a less active sun, and a cooler earth period.
Amidst these 11-year cycles are also grand patterns…grand peaks and valleys known as Grand Minimums and Grand Maximums.
I made links to each of those where you can learn more, but the gist is COLD…for long periods of time. When I say COLD, I mean relative to normal and am not telling my northern readers to sell their houses for fear of glacial collisions. That said, as I wrote back in May of this year, there are some folks speculating that we could be on the verge of an elongated era of colder winters.
As for a warm PDO, the PDO stands for Pacific Decadal Oscillation. During a “warm”, or “positive”, phase, the west Pacific becomes cooler and part of the eastern Pacific ocean warms.
Here is an image of what a positive, or warm PDO looks like:
If the warm ring off the Pacific Coast makes you take notice, it should; this has been a factor for cold North American winters in the past. I’ve referred to this often over the past three years with this blog. The warmer waters can create a high pressure ridge off the Gulf of Alaska (build the ridge, open the fridge) and when that happens…well, that set up was in place heading into the winter of 2013-2014, which Bastardi referenced above.
Back in late December of 2013, I wrote the following on my PropaneBuzz blog:
“All market fundamentals are bullish right now and I’ve also read some meteorological reports suggesting January is going to be a cold one for most of the United States due to the Alaskan Ridge that is in place, bringing them record heat and the lower 48 the colder air we have been experiencing. Weather experts believe this ridge will hold up into January and perhaps much of the month. If you’re short January, locking in prices on some gallons might not be a bad idea.”
I can go back through my blogging history and pull up examples of where I was on the wrong side of a projection. However, this one turned out to be pretty good, as the propane price spike of mid to late January was the most epic in the history of propane. January of 2014 was one of the coldest January’s in the history of the United States.
In closing, Bastardi sees evidence for another mild December, with the winter arriving in earnest and settling in for January, February and March.
All in all, this is positive news. For those of you who roll your eyes at early forecasts like this, here is something I wrote up last year on July 21st, 2015, that was calling for a blowtorch winter in the Upper Plains, which was just what we saw. There was a warm Pacific ring one year ago, as there had been in the previous two winters before that…it’s just that we had an historically strong El Nino last winter, which essentially ‘vetoed’ all other climate factors.