Forecasts and Planning Tools

Seasonal to Interannual Forecasts

Climate Outlook

February 2006 archive copy

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The Climate Impacts Group (CIG) translates global-scale climate forecasts and conditions into regional-scale climate forecasts for Pacific Northwest (PNW) resource managers and the general public. The El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is the most important factor for seasonal forecasting, changing the odds for different types of winter and spring weather (e.g. warmer/drier, cooler/wetter) in the PNW. Another important climate variable for Pacific Northwest climate is the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). The climate outlook also provides the basis for natural resource forecasts, including the CIG's annual streamflow forecasts.

What's Next for the Pacific Northwest?

Winter 2006
Updated February 15, 2006
The climate outlook is reviewed monthly and updated as needed. Updates (when needed) are posted after the 10th of each month.

Winter to date in the Pacific Northwest has been unusually mild for the most part. Although December was somewhat cooler than average, January was the 5th warmest in 112 years for the Northwest as a whole (+6.3°F above average). It was also the second wettest January on record, with almost double the average precipitation. Neither of these features - unusually warm and wet - can be attributed to the current ENSO state. In fact, current tropical sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are comparable to those during the weak 2000-01 La Niña - a period notable for bringing severe drought to the Pacific Northwest. At the time of writing, a sharp cold snap is imminent and should bring February's average temperature down considerably.

Current indicators for Pacific climate:

El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Cooler than average ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific, along with stronger than average easterly trade winds, persistently wet conditions over southeast Asia, and dry weather over the central equatorial Pacific all indicate a continuation of weak La Niña-like conditions. However, based on NOAA's criteria for ENSO events, recent measures reflect conditions that have just crossed the La Niña threshold (see NOAA press release). Most forecast models suggest that tropical climate will continue to have weak La Niña characteristics for the rest of winter and spring.

La Niña events increase the odds for cooler and wetter weather in the Pacific Northwest. NOAA's seasonal outlooks for the rest of winter and spring have been revised and now suggest that odds for precipitation and temperature are in the "equal chances" category (meaning the chance for below average, near average, or above average temperature and precipitation is 33.3% for each category). Previously, the odds for temperature were tilted towards above-average.

What happened to last fall's ENSO-neutral forecast? ENSO forecasts from last fall mostly called for near-neutral ENSO conditions, with a bias for slightly warmer than normal equatorial SSTs. By November the forecasts were essentially equally split between slightly warmer and slightly cooler than average equatorial SST anomalies. Starting with December the forecasts caught up with the observations, and the forecasts are now biased to cooler than average through spring. (Review the 2005-2006 ENSO forecast progression)

Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). North Pacific sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies trended towards the negative PDO pattern in September, October, and November, but changed to a near-neutral PDO state in December. These relatively large changes in North Pacific SSTs were directly related to a persistently positive Pacific North America pattern of atmospheric circulation in the month of December (view the PNA index). Given the state of the tropics and the expected continuation of ENSO-neutral to weak La Niña characteristics, it is likely that the PDO will remain neutral or slightly negative for winter and spring 2006 (see note on PDO forecasting).

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What will it mean for the PNW in coming months?

Given the relatively weak intensity of the current La Niña, La Niña is expected to have a modest influence on PNW climate for the next few months. NOAA's Climate Prediction Center forecasts equal chances for temperature and precipitation for the spring season (March-April-May). This means the chance for below average, near average, or above average temperature and precipitation is 33.3% for each category.

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Pacific Northwest Resource Outlooks

Climate Prediction Resources

The links below provide access to the latest information on the current state of global and regional climate, as well as links to global and regional climate predictions.

The Current State of the Tropical Pacific

Predictions of Tropical Pacific Conditions

The Current State of the Globe

Current and Predicted U.S. Conditions

Pacific Northwest Conditions

State Climatologist Offices

Special Areas