“Forecasting has come so far in the past couple of decades, and it has come to the point where we can take it to a new level, but we’re not fully there yet,” Placky said. “We’ve come a long way in understanding how these patterns link together, but we don’t understand how to connect all of them.”
Climate change seems to be influencing the state of natural oscillations, as well, Douglas said. Siberia and the Arctic are warming twice as quickly as Europe and the United States, and that, he said has “knocked the jet stream off its rails.”
A 2012 study found a 14 percent drop in upper atmosphere wind speeds because of this disproportionate warming. As a result, weather systems are more likely to stall, which could explain the recent non-stop rains in Boulder, Colo., as well as floods in Calgary and Chicago earlier this year and persistent summer droughts in the Midwest.
Slower-moving weather patterns suggest that whatever this winter brings will likely stick around for a while.
Most detailed winter forecasts will emerge in November, but the first few predictions are starting to trickle in. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, for example, is calling for warmer and wetter-than-normal conditions through March in the southwest, centered around west Texas and New Mexico, though NOAA offers equal chances that the rest of the country will be warm, cold or about average.
With signs that the North Atlantic Oscillation is trending negative this year, some forecasters are predicting lots of snow for the northeast. And Accuweather.com is calling for cold and dry conditions in the upper Northwest through December and January but a wet December for northern California, Oregon and the lower Mississippi and Ohio valleys.
For the Midwest, Douglas predicted “colder with some snow,” he said. “The more vague you can be for a six-month outlook, the better for you.”
His methods, he admitted, are based on questionable research.
“I am telling people only half tongue in cheek that we have done an analysis of the 12 years since 1976 with government shutdowns and the winters that followed those shutdowns, as a rule, were four inches snowier than non-government shutdown years,” he said. “Seeing as we don’t have a strong signal for El Niño or La Niña, I think that’s as good of an indicator as any other.”