The Winter 2021-2022 Outlook is in! What should Utahns expect?

Utah Weather Stories

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4) – The highly anticipated, long range 2021-2022 winter outlook for temperature and precipitation was announced Thursday. The long-range predictions are put out by the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, and to be honest, it looks a bit lackluster for Utah.

Overall, the forecast for the U.S. favors drier, warmer conditions for the Southern half of the United States with cooler, wetter conditions for the Pacific Northwest. Wetter than average conditions are also expected in the Pacific Northwest, northern Rockies, Great Lakes, Ohio Valley and western Alaska. The Winter 2021-2022 Outlook brings warmer-than-average conditions are most likely across the Southern tier of the U.S. and much of the Eastern U.S. with the greatest likelihood of above-average temperatures in the Southeast.  So, what about us?

Here in the Beehive State, Southern Utah is forecast to face a drier winter with below-normal precipitation chances. Simultaneously, the remainder of the state has equal chances to see wetter or drier conditions. Our entire region is forecast to record above normal, warmer temperatures.

Courtesy: NOAA

It’s a forecast in tune with La Niña, and this is a back-to-back La Niña year, referred to as a “double dip.” You may remember, earlier this month, forecasters studied ocean and atmospheric conditions in the tropical Pacific and announced La Nina developed for a second winter in a row, which is not uncommon. 

La Nina occurs when stronger than usual trade winds in the Pacific Ocean blow warmer waters at the surface from South America West toward Indonesia. When this happens, colder water from below the surface rises near the coast of South America, which is referred to as upwelling.

The variable Pacific jet stream typically will stay further North, and the Polar jet stream dips farther east, which can impact where storms travel. In a typical La Nina year, La Nina winters tend to be drier and warmer across the southern third of the United States, and cooler in the Northern U.S. and Canada. parts of the Midwest, the Ohio/Tennessee Valleys, and the Pacific Northwest tend to see more rain and snow than average, so much of the trend aligns. 

Keep in mind, NOAA’s seasonal outlooks provide the likelihood that temperatures and total precipitation amounts will be above, near or below-average, and how drought conditions are anticipated to change in the months ahead.

While we dealt with La Nina last year in Utah, we already have a few differences this year.  October has brought wintry weather ahead of schedule and provided our higher elevations with early, healthy snowpack. It’s great news considering the historic drought we’ve battled for the last year, and monthly moisture in Salt Lake City is currently above average and seven times what it was for October 2020. We’re currently sitting at 2.06″ of rain with a few days of October left, and last year we wrapped the month 0.28″ total. We also have the potential to tap into moisture from an atmospheric river as we start next week, with weather models leaning toward an additional inch of rain heading our way. 

The Winter Outlook also looks at drought, and in Utah, the latest drought update has 14% of the state under exceptional drought conditions, which our miracle monsoon and active storm track has slowly chipped away. last week, exceptional drought for Utah sat at 17% and included the Wasatch Front, but storms have helped us a progress. 

The long-range U.S. prediction has drought conditions persisting in the severe to exceptional category for western half of the continental U.S., Northern Plains, and the Missouri River Basin. It also shows the chance for drought development in the Southwest and Southern Plains.

Last year, La Nina brought in below-average precipitation, but there have been years where we see something different play out. These early seasons storms this year have brought valley rain and healthy mountain snow. We have seen La Nina years in the past perform the same way. The other most recent La Nina years in Utah include the seasons of 2008-2009, 2010-2011 and 2016-17, and during those years while most valley locations saw below-normal snowfall, many of our mountain ranges saw the opposite with above-average snowfall years.

The Wasatch Mountains also saw one its biggest seasons in 2010-2011 of the last decade, with Alta recording 553″ of snow. While battling this historic drought, we welcome measurable moisture into Utah. Snowpack helps fill our reservoirs, and combat water woes in our drier months.  

Another note when it comes to seasonal outlooks, they don’t predict storms or project seasonal snowfall accumulations because snow forecasts are generally not predictable more than a week in advance. Leave it to the Pinpoint Weather Team to bring you accurate timelines with incoming storms

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