Winter 2024 has been a mixed bag so far, with some regions experiencing record-breaking cold and snow, while others enjoying milder-than-average temperatures and less precipitation. But what can we expect for the rest of the season? Will it be a winter wonderland or a spring fling? Here are four possible scenarios based on the latest forecasts and climate trends.
Scenario 1: El Niño Fades Away, Warmer Weather Prevails
One scenario is that the strong El Niño that has influenced the weather patterns this winter will gradually weaken and fade away by the end of February, allowing for a warmer and drier trend to develop across most of the U.S. This would mean that many areas that have seen below-normal temperatures and above-normal snowfall, such as the Midwest, the Northeast, and the South, would see a reversal of fortunes and enjoy a mild and pleasant end to the winter season. Meanwhile, the Northwest, the Rockies, and Alaska, which have been warmer and drier than normal, would continue to experience those conditions, with little chance of significant snowfall.
This scenario is supported by the seasonal forecast from the India Meteorological Department, which predicts above-average temperatures and below-average rainfall for most of the country from January to March 2024, as well as the monthly outlook for February 2024 from The Weather Channel, which favors above-average temperatures for the Northwest, the Rockies, the Northern and Central Plains, the upper Midwest, and New England, and near-average temperatures for the South and the mid-Atlantic.
Scenario 2: El Niño Persists, Cold and Snowy Weather Continues
Another scenario is that the strong El Niño that has dominated the winter weather so far will persist through the rest of the season, bringing more cold and snowy weather to many parts of the U.S. This would mean that the regions that have already seen a harsh winter, such as the Midwest, the Northeast, and the South, would face more bouts of arctic air and heavy snowstorms, while the regions that have been spared, such as the Northwest, the Rockies, and Alaska, would see little change in their mild and dry conditions.
This scenario is supported by the historical tendency of strong El Niño events to last longer and have more impact on the winter weather than weaker ones, as well as the possibility that the recent mid-January cold spell could be followed by a colder February, as suggested by Todd Crawford, Vice President of Meteorology at Atmospheric G2. This scenario is also consistent with the winter weather forecast from the 2024 Farmers’ Almanac, which predicts more snow and low temperatures for most of the U.S., except for the Pacific Northwest.
Scenario 3: La Niña Emerges, Weather Becomes More Variable
A third scenario is that the strong El Niño that has been in place this winter will rapidly transition to a La Niña, which is the opposite phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, characterized by cooler-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. This would mean that the weather patterns across the U.S. would become more variable and unpredictable, with frequent shifts between warm and cold, wet and dry, and calm and stormy conditions.
This scenario is supported by the possibility that the strong El Niño could quickly decay and give way to a La Niña by sometime this summer, as indicated by some climate models and historical analogs, as well as the uncertainty in the long-range forecasts for the spring months. This scenario is also in line with the winter weather forecast from the 2024 Old Farmer’s Almanac, which predicts snowfall to be above normal across most snow-prone areas, except for the Pacific Northwest, and temperatures to be below normal in the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic, the Southeast, the lower Midwest, and the Southwest, and above normal in the Northwest, the upper Midwest, the Northern and Central Plains, and the South Central region.
Scenario 4: Polar Vortex Disrupts, Extreme Weather Ensues
A fourth scenario is that the polar vortex, which is a large area of low pressure and cold air that surrounds the North Pole, will become disrupted and displaced, allowing for blasts of frigid air to plunge southward into the U.S., bringing extreme cold and snow to many regions. This would mean that the winter weather would be more severe and erratic than normal, with the potential for record-breaking low temperatures, heavy snowfall, ice storms, and blizzards, affecting not only the typical cold and snowy areas, but also the regions that are usually mild and dry.
This scenario is supported by the evidence that the polar vortex has already been disrupted and displaced this winter, resulting in the mid-January arctic outbreak that affected most of the U.S., as well as the possibility that it could happen again in the coming weeks and months, as suggested by some forecast models and experts. This scenario is also consistent with the winter weather forecast from the 2024 Old Farmer’s Almanac, which warns of a “winter of the great divide”, with “cold and snow in the north, drought in the west, and everything crazy in between”.