Skip To The Main Content
News & Updates

El Niño dominating forecast

  • Ken Elliott and Jim Sullivan
- Posted: December 12, 2018
Following what was a normal to busy winter in 2017-18 for large portions of the United States and southern Canada, the 2018-19 season began mighty early for some. Snow was falling, and in some cases required removal in the Rockies, the Upper Plains and interior Canada by the end of September. This fast start quickly shifted eastward with accumulations in 35 states by 
Oct. 22. As a point of comparison, our colleagues completed approximately twice as many event summaries as they did through the same date in 2017 and more than three times the number of 2016. Now that we’re getting into the middle of winter and November continued where October left off, the big question is whether this season will last as long and be as active as last year’s or if we’re due for a down year?

Wet weather
After back-to-back La Niña winters, we are still monitoring the shift toward El Niño across the Pacific Ocean that began earlier this year. The expectation is that the El Niño will be one of the primary drivers of this winter’s pattern as it invigorates the jet stream over the southern United States. As a result, wet conditions are likely across the south, from Texas to the Carolinas. Some of this wet weather will turn and travel up the East Coast, bringing opportunities for snow farther north into the mid-Atlantic, New England and to a lesser extent Atlantic Canada, when cold air is in place. The coldest and snowiest period seems to be targeting February, but certainly could kick off in the latter half of January and even last into March. For those further south, it’s probably not the year to bury snow and ice gear in the back of the shop. While much of this winter’s precipitation should be rain, there may be enough cold air around for mixed precipitation or snow at least once as far south as Atlanta (with even a shot for some of the white stuff making it into northern Florida for the second season in a row).

More Lake Effect
Meanwhile, the anticipated storm track may prevent the Ohio Valley, Midwest and Great Lakes from seeing the biggest storms, but that does not mean the region will escape snow. Rather, it looks like the majority of the snow events this year will be clipper based, as cold periods will be accompanied by atmospheric disturbances as opposed to fully developed storms. But it is a long winter, there will be a few windows during the season when larger storms can develop — especially closer to the Ohio River. Lake Effect snow will undoubtedly fire up, particularly in late January and February when cold air looks to be the most prevalent. Elsewhere, portions of the Southwest United States tend to be active during an El Niño, which means mountain snow in areas that may have missed out the last couple of winters. Since this region is in the midst of a long drought, this would be a great outcome from a water supply perspective. Additionally, southern Canada looks to be often on the mild side (compared to average), taking the edge off the typical winter chill. While El Niño is not a great snow producer for most of Canada or the Pacific Northwest, that far north you can never completely shut it off. Even though there are sure to be some peaks and valleys along the way, it will likely be another formidable season for many in the industry — even in areas that may miss out on the biggest snow makers. We’ll be back with a recap of the season in the spring; in the meantime, good luck this year!

Final Temperature Forecast

Key forecast points
• Active storm track is expected across the south, with some storms turning up the East Coast with wintry weather likely (especially in February).
• Though it will be overall mild in the West, parts of California and the Desert Southwest are favored to get much-needed snow in the mountains.
• Upper Midwest and Upper Plains looks “less cold” than normal, with average snow and precipitation patterns.
• Southern Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley may get one or two larger snowstorms, but should see occasional to frequent clippers and Lake Effect events.
• Much of southern Canada looks to escape excessive winter chill, but still expect some snowy periods, particularly in Quebec and the Maritimes.

Ken Elliott is senior meteorologist and director of information technology and Jim Sullivan is a meteorologist for WeatherWorks. Contact them at or 
[Login to add acomment]