Winter Outlook 2017–2018: Colder Than Last Year

Cold Weather is Coming . . . But How Cold and For How Long?

Fall Frost in the Garden

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Overall, the long-range winter forecast for 2017–2018 shows generally colder temperatures than last winter for the U.S. and Canada but not colder than a typical winter, based on historical averages. As I write these words, there are no sunspots on the visible portion of the Sun, and solar activity is very quiet; this traditionally meant a cooling influence. So why isn’t it colder than average? Other weather factors are at play.

Low Solar Activity

As you may know, we at The Old Farmer’s Almanac use solar activity as the driver of our long-range weather forecasts. We believe that changes in the Sun’s output, although relatively small, are sufficiently amplified in Earth’s upper atmosphere to strongly influence Earth’s weather patterns.

One of the most significant relationships we have found is that periods of low solar activity are associated with colder temperatures, averaged across Earth. Our viewpoint is a controversial one, as most scientists believe that the magnitude of changes in solar activity is insufficient to have a significant effect on Earth’s weather, and they view as coincidence that past periods of exceptionally low solar activity have historically corresponded with cold periods. However, there has been some research and modeling that gives credence to our theory: Although the changes in magnitude of solar activity are small, there is a mechanism in the upper atmosphere that can amplify these changes, causing larger ripples in the lower portion of Earth’s atmosphere, where weather occurs.

The graph below (from the NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center) shows the data for the officially numbered sunspot cycles, from Cycle 1 in the mid-1700s to our current Cycle 24. As you can see, the current cycle is comparable to the very low levels of solar activity that occurred in the early 1800s (the period referred to as the “Dalton Minimum,” which coincided with the “Little Ice Age”) and early 1900s, which was also a cool period. These three periods have brought the lowest solar activity levels since the Maunder Minimum, the period from about 1645 to 1715, when solar cycles apparently stopped and sunspots were exceedingly rare.

17.09._sunspots_full_width.jpg

Historically, all of the periods in the known sunspot record that have had low activity have also had relatively cool temperatures, averaged across the globe. The Maunder Minimum coincided with an exceptionally cold period in many parts of the globe. We believe that with low solar activity continuing for at least the next 10 to 30 years, global temperatures will be cooler than they would otherwise be.

Despite the recent low solar activity, the winter of 2015–16 was historically warm across much of the United States and Canada. And while the 2016–17 winter was much colder than the previous winter in most locations, temperatures were still above normal in nearly all regions.

Other Weather Factors

So why, you might ask, was this past winter still relatively mild in most of the country even though solar activity is low? The answer is that solar activity is not the only factor in Earth’s weather.

For example, one factor that all atmospheric scientists believe can make Earth colder for as much as a few years is a volcanic eruption that spews ash into the middle and upper portions of the atmosphere. While this has not been a major factor in recent years, it could be in the future.

The most significant factor (in addition to solar activity) that has been affecting our weather in recent years has been the increase in greenhouse gases—most notably carbon dioxide and methane—which most (but not all) atmospheric scientists believe has been making Earth progressively warmer. We have been incorporating the influence of these increases into our forecasts as a factor that will offset much of the cooling from our current period of low solar activity.

In fact, despite the low solar activity, the first half of 2017 was 3.4 degrees F above average across the United States, the second warmest January to June period on record, behind only 2016. Amazingly, the last month in which the global average temperature was below its average for the 20th century was in February 1985, more than 30 years ago, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the parent agency of the U.S. National Weather Service.

It is important to note that although Earth, on average, has been warming for decades, not every place is or will be warmer than normal each season. Remember: Other factors are at play, including the normal variation in weather that occurs from day to day and year to year.

The Coming Winter Forecast 2017–2018 

Here’s our broad view of the coming winter: With last winter’s weak La Niña most likely to be replaced by a weak El Niño this winter, cold air masses will be able to slide into the Intermountain region and western states but will have difficulty making any prolonged inroads in the central and eastern states.

Click on maps to see larger versions.

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The result is that 2017–18 winter temperatures will be colder than last winter, they will likely still be above normal in the eastern and north-central states, with below-normal temperatures the rule from the Gulf States westward to California and from the Intermountain region westward to the Pacific Northwest.

See the full 2017-2018 weather forecast in the brand-new 2018 Old Farmer’s Almanac.

~ By  Michael Steinberg

Reader Comments

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Winter in Ohio

We were extremely blessed last year with an almost non existent winter. What do you forsee this winter being in Ohio? Snowfall? Temps?

Indications for Ohio

We are predicting winter temps to be colder than last winter but still above normal in Ohio this winter. Snowfall will generally be below normal (except for the northwestern corner of the state where it will be slightly above normal). Precipitation will be near or slightly above normal.

You can get all of the details in the publication. To find the store nearest you, just key in your zip code here: https://www.almanac.com/wheretobuy

Winter in Wisconsin

Please tell me what my winter will be like. Do I need to schedule appointments with the chiropractor?

Farmers almanac winter predictions

I am a first time almanac winter reports reader. Where have I been for the last 78 years?
Right here,watching the national weather channel, which seldom gets anything right where I have been living for the past 20 years, in Washington state on the west side of the mountains. We seldom if ever have snow and when it does happen, its gone by noon.
So what do you wise men at the Almanac foresee for our area this winter, in regard to snow fall. Keep up the good work and I love your attitude!! snicker, snicker

Weather forecasting

I lived in SE Florida for 33 yrs and found your forecasts spot on for that region, particularly regarding tropical weather threats, hurricane probability 'threat' or 'hit', temperature ranges and rainfall predictions, and found far more dependable accuracy in Farmers Almanac than local tv weather forecasting!

a fan from Florida

Hi, Linda! Thank you so much for writing! We are so pleased to hear that the you find the forecasts helpful! This is just delightful news! We hope that maybe the forecast gave you a bit of warning about Irma—and helps you prepare for the remainder of the season. Stay safe! We will be thinking of you!
 

Gulf coast, Alabama

What is prediction for Orange Beach, AL for December 2017 and January and February 2018?

Winter in Alabama

Hi, Virgene, We can not fit the entire forecast here (too little space) but we can tell you that December’s average temp will be 49°F; January, 46°F; and February, 46°F. Precipitation will be heavy in December (as much as 8 inches) and in January and February (about 5 inches each month). Still you could get a few beach days …

We hope you get the weather you want!

 

NOAA

The NOAA just released a 55-60% chance of another La Niña happening. The article was just released on September 14th. Does this sway your predictions at all?

no swing, no sway here . . .

No, Chris, NOAA’s forecast does not move us at all. Our forecast was released with the Almanac in late August (and in stores across the US and Canada now, as well as at Almanac.com/store). We pay attention—that is, read—NOAA’s forecast because, let’s face it: We want to see how we stack up, especially given that our forecasts were made last January and February.

We’ll watch to see who gets it right.

End of March / Early April 2018

Spring 2017 in NY was very warm. Wondering if spring 2018 will be the same.

NY in spring...

Well, New York is a complicated area. In the Manhattan/Long Island area (and a few points beyond; Region 2), it will be rainy, with near-normal temps. In upstate, Albany and north and somewhat west (Region 1), it will be rainy, with near-normal temps. In Buffalo/Syracuse area (Region 6), it will be warmer and drier than normal. And in the triangle that embraces Elmira (Region 3), it will be rainier and cooler than normal.

It all becomes clear on the various pages…

Fall and Wunter

What will the Fall and Winter be like is Sheridan
Wy?

WRONG PREDICTION

In last year's almanac, you predicted "above normal" temperatures for the Intermountain region where I live. They were FAR below normal for 3 months. You also predicted mainly "above average" precipitation for our Summer, and it was one of the driest on record, with huge wildfires burning everywhere.
I can only hope you are wrong again this year.

re: Wrong Prediction

... well, LA - DEE - FRICKIN' - DAH ! ... hey, Almanac Readers, I'm old-n-grey, an' I don't see to good ... - is that GOD, over there, gripin' about yer weather forecast ?! ... just had to throw a little Chris Farley into this reply ... hey, nobody's right all the time, Ed ... - you, me, the readers, the Almanac folks ... - it's no biggie ... we're all human ... dont let it get ya down ... :)

Winter

I am excited to see the prediction for 2017/18 as I love Winter, and cold temps and snow! We didn't get much last year and I was so disappointed. We live just 40 minutes west of Peoria, Illinois

Northeast Snow

Will The Northeast (I live in NJ) get more snowstorms and icestorms this winter?

Cold winter & snow in Mt. Laurel, NJ

Hi!
We hardly had any snow last winter & the temperatures were above average. Can you tell me what to expect? I Love the snow & roaring fire in the fireplace, while sipping some Hot Chocolate! (or a glass of wine) Romantic, I know! Please let me know if I'll have some romantic nights from Thanksgiving to Valentines Day!
Gerrie

2017-2018 winter wind forecast

In 2017-2018 winter forecast for the Rocky Mountain region, I was wondering if the winter the winds be calmer or worse than last winter?

Windy weather?

We do not predict wind conditions. In fact, this may be the first question about a wind forecast. We can offer a couple of observations: During El Nino, surface winds across the tropical Pacific are weaker, and during La Nina they are stronger. (The LA Times has reported extremely high winds during La Nina.)

Now, you reference the Rocky Mountain region. We do not have a designated Rocky Mountain region, but we forecast for the Intermountain Region on the west of the Rockies and several regions on the east of the Rockies. If you are on the west of the Rockies/Continental Divide, you may experience stronger winds because the winds across North America are prevailing westerlies. Last winter, we had a moderate La Nina…so that may be the reason you had to hold on to your hat. We are predicting a moderate El Nino this winter. (Remember these are theories on broad generalizations; other factors are at play as well.)