Forecasts and Planning Tools

Seasonal to Interannual Forecasts

Climate Outlook

March 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?

Spring 2006
Updated March 20, 2006

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

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. Since early February the region has experienced periods of below average temperatures and near-to-below average precipitation. Water year precipitation and mountain snowpack throughout the region is very near or above the long-term average at the time of this writing, so prospects for abundant spring and summer snow melt and river runoff are generally very good for the region.

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. Based on NOAA's criteria for ENSO events, recent measures reflect conditions that are only modestly greater than 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.

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 sea surface temperatures (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). There is now considerable spread between the most recent ENSO forecasts, with a general tendency for the forecasts to show a gradual weakening of the current cold SST anomalies in the tropical Pacific. By mid-summer, some forecasts indicate relatively weak positive SST anomalies in the equatorial Pacific. On average the forecasts suggest near-normal ENSO conditions by summer and into fall.

Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). North Pacific SST anomalies trended towards the negative PDO pattern in September, October, and November, but changed to a near-neutral PDO state in December. January and February had positive PDO index values (+1 and +0.66, respectively). 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 and again in the first 2 weeks of February (view the PNA index). A period of persistently negative PNA index values from mid-February to mid-March will likely cause further declines in the PDO index for March. 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 return to near-zero values for spring (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. La Niña events increase the odds for cooler and wetter winter and spring weather in the Pacific Northwest. NOAA's seasonal outlooks show odds that favor below average temperature and "equal chances" above, near, or below average precipitation this spring. The latest forecasts also show that odds favor above average temperature and equal chances for precipitation this summer.

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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