2018-19 POWWR Winter Outlook

Updated: Sep 18, 2019

2018-19 POWWR Winter Outlook by Ian Palao

Summer 2018 Recap


Our Summer (May-Sep) 2018 seasonal forecast that was released in April 2018 is represented in Figure 1. In aggregate, we believed that warmer temperatures were ahead for much of the western US and to a lesser degree, New England and parts of the Mid-Atlantic. Actual anomalies from May-Sep 2018 are represented in Figure 2. Overall, not as good of a result as we hoped. We completely missed on the mid-continent heat, whereas we thought it would actualize more “normal”. We did correctly identify the inter-mountain West as the focal point for severe heat. Hopefully, our weekly weather blog assisted you in driving through the heat wave periods. 

In the tropics, we anticipated a slightly more active season with 14 named storms, 8 hurricanes, and 4 of the hurricanes to be classified as “major” hurricanes. Up to this point, early October, the totals are 13, 6, and 2 with two months remaining. On average, the Atlantic Basin sees 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes, with 3 of them classified as “major”. Regarding landfall placement, we assigned the highest probability to Florida with the LA/MS/AL coasts and the East Coast essentially tied for second place. Please note the absence of the Texas coast on our Top 3. Thus far, this has proven spot-on as the Texas coast has not seen any action.



Background Info for Winter 2018-19

As with all our winter outlooks, we first examine three underlying characteristics…the state of El Nino / La Nina, Arctic sea ice extent, US soil moisture.

El Nino

This coming winter, we are likely to be dealing with a burgeoning El Nino. Not an ordinary, run-of-the-mill El Nino. This is shaping up to be a “Modoki” El Nino. “Modoki” is a Japanese word that translates as “similar, but different”. Let me explain why this particular Nino will likely be “similar” and “different”.

First off, all Los Ninos are characterized by warming of the sea surface temperatures in the central to eastern Pacific Ocean. This warming then alters the jet stream pattern that effects the winter weather of the US and Canada (and other parts of the globe as well). That’s the “similar” part.

What is “different” is that the warming is shaping up to be more anomalous in the central Pacific Ocean and less so in the eastern Pacific off Central and South America. Figure 3

shows the oceanic zones that scientists use when speaking about warming and cooling of

the ocean waters regarding both El Nino and La Nina. Typically, El Nino warming begins with (and is most anomalous) for Zones 1, 2, and into Zone 3. What we are seeing now is the warming beginning in Zone 3.4 (a combination of Zones 3 & 4) farther out towards the central Pacific. The international meteorological and oceanographic communities believe this will continue through winter…hence the forecast for the Modoki El Nino.


Keep in mind that during a “typical” El Nino, the southern US and West Coast tend to be cooler and wetter than normal while the northern tier east of the Rockies tends to be warm and dry. This Modoki El Nino will have a drastic impact to our winter weather. We will get to specifics a little later when we talk about the outlook as it will be the major driver of winter weather, in our opinion.

Arctic Sea Ice

The extent of Arctic Sea ice plays a major role in the pool of cold air available for transport through Canada into the U.S.   Sufficient sea ice allows for the pool of cold air to be vast, deep, and easily replenished.

Arctic sea ice undergoes a cycle each year. It builds during the winter and degrades during the summer. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice reached its minimum extent (1.77 million square miles) somewhere in the September 19-23 time frame.  This is tied for the sixth lowest areal coverage in the last 40 years. Now begins the time when sea ice ramps up in creation. This will be more of a significant sign that its minimum extent.


Figure 4 shows the extent of sea ice coverage as of October 10, 2018. Sea ice has built southwards into upper Canada and around Greenland. What is lacking is coverage near Eurasia and Alaska. In the early Fall, that has seemingly been the case for the past few years. To summarize, ice is building, but it is by no means “heavy” at this time.

Soil Moisture Soil moisture plays a role in modifying winter temperatures. The more moisture the soil holds, the more it can modify (moderate) a cold air mass. With dry soil, a cold air mass goes largely unchanged. Keep in mind, that unlike an El Nino or sea ice, soil moisture is one of the more easily changeable characteristics that influence our winter weather. The only exception to this would be in places of extreme drought as those lands can take prolonged months of consistent rainfall to alleviate the harshest of drought conditions. As of October 9, drought conditions are exceptionally severe in the Four Corners area of the Southwest (Figure 5). In general, much of the West is experiencing some degree of drought. As we go east of the Rockies, drought conditions are far less severe and far more “spotty” in coverage. In these locations, a good rain event caused by a fall or early winter frontal passage (or even tropical moisture) will erase any minor drought conditions.


Winter 2018-19 Outlook The Modoki El Nino will likely be the driver of this coming winter. Because the Modoki Nino will alter the placement of the jet stream, we believe that this winter will be characterized by cold anomalies, especially in Jan-Feb. It will take some time for the impact of the Modoki to flow through to the atmosphere, that is why we are showing two outlooks, one for Nov-Dec (Fig 6) which is warm in the deregulated markets and one for Jan-Mar (Fig 7) which is quite cool to cold in much of the deregulated markets.


About the Author

Mr. Palao specializes in commodity risk management and the science of meteorology / climatology. He serves as POWWR’s VP of Strategic Energy Services and is one of the company’s many subject matter experts. He has 20 years of experience in the energy/utility industry where he used his skills and knowledge of meteorology and advanced statistics. From 2000 through 2011, he worked at TXU Energy Trading/Luminant Energy in Dallas where he served in three capacities. Most recently, he served as Capital/Liquidity Manager of the trading portfolio, optimizing the use of capital while still maintaining profitability. Prior to that, he managed the Weather Derivatives trading desk, devising strategy and executing trades for both speculative and hedging purposes. Upon joining TXU, he served as manager of the Quantitative Risk Group, assisting the company in the identification, quantification, and remediation of financial risks inherent in the company’s multi-commodity trading portfolio.In his first foray into energy/utilities, he was a Marketing Executive with Louisiana Gas Service Company, a local distribution company, where he primarily marketed natural gas technology to commercial and industrial customers. Before that, he served as a Research Scientist under contract to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Mr. Palao has an M.B.A. from Tulane University. He also has both an MS and BS in Meteorology from Florida State University.  He is a member of the Financial Risk Management Committee of the American Meteorological Society (AMS).

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