The Fight for Fall

January 29, 2016

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The US and Canada are in for a real battle this autumn.

Think of it as a battle of the heavyweights. In the north corner of the ring, it’s the Arctic Oscillation. Its punishing blows can knock you out cold. In the west corner lurks the El Niño. Don’t let the name, which means “little boy”, fool you. He can come roaring out with a cold punch to the South and hot and heavy in the North.

The El Niño is weak but may pack a warm punch later. SOURCE: NASA Earth Observatory

Oh, and just to make the battle even more interesting – in the east corner is the hot Atlantic. This battler has been the past champion, dominating the ring, baking the US with scorching hot temperatures. The champion is not going to give up easily.

On Saturday, September 22, the opening bell rang and autumn starts. The battle to see which forces shape this fall’s weather will begin. In short, the hot dry summer is finally dragging to a close and a stormier fall is about to begin.

Let’s pretend that there is a ringside announcer. He is sizing up Round 1 – the opening week of autumn.

  • The Champion, the hot Atlantic still controls the ring. The US is still warm and dry, but it looks like he is getting tired. Some cooler temperatures are entering the South.
  • The cold Arctic Oscillation is entering the ring. Those winds that trap polar air north are weakening and some cooler air is surging into the Great Lakes and the Midwest. Already we are seeing snowflakes over the Great Lakes. The AO won’t do much this round, but he is shaping up to be a real contender. This winter will be colder than last winter.

Last year had a warm positive Arctic Oscillation, but this year a negative AO may bring in the cold. SOURCE: NOAA

  • The El Niño has not officially begun. (Scientists wait a number of weeks for temperatures in the tropical Pacific to remain warmer than 0.9˚F before they officially declare an El Niño has begun.) We are seeing only a few small blows from the “little boy”. He’s bringing some rain to Texas and the Southern Plains. Expect him to start growing stronger and peaking in November and December.

Expect an epic battle and a very messy fall. The warm waters of the two oceans will clash with cold winds from the north. It’s hard to know which weather factor will triumph. However, if the US gets some rain and cooler temperatures, we will all be the winners. 


About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to “Weather Whispers” by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these articles. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.

Reader Comments

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I live in NE Florida. What

I live in NE Florida. What kind of winter can we expect for 2013?

I live in georgia and I love

I live in georgia and I love snow u think that we will get snow this year.

Im still debating whether I

Im still debating whether I should get the heater on sale or not. It would be a good idea to winterize my house but its going to be in the 70s next week! and im thinking "well, it may stay like this through November-December" im not wasting my money on a record warm winter. When will the colder air start move in again in the mid atlantic? Im hoping soon! i dont want it to stay unusually warm..

This better be a tougher

This better be a tougher winter. I did not almost slide down the backyard with piles of acorns 2 inches deep for no reason!! They said the worst of the cold is gone in KY. Now thats making me think we will be crazy above normal again. Please.. i want more coldd! Thats what made me happy. Im waiting on the November forecast from NOAA. Crossing my fingers

last "winter" was quite weird

last "winter" was quite weird in North Carolina. I could go outside on a January afternoon and go to the park and walk my 2 dogs (they're spoiled) 60 degrees and sunshine, my oh my! NC had more of a Florida winter but the lack of winter last year has really hurt many things- way too many fleas, ticks, and pests. I love some beautiful spring weather too but can the 60 degree weather hold off until March and April this time? My doggies say "ohh please no fleas" flea spray is far too expensive for me to buy in winter when they should be frozen off! Should the NAO still phase negative at times this winter atleast? Without winter, spring wouldnt be so beautiful. When its 70 degrees in February it ruins everything
Brenda- Im with you. If i see tulips in Feb im gonna be at the doctors office as well

We had that October snowstorm

We had that October snowstorm on Halloween then following that November came in and it was unusually warm. We had our 2nd warmest November. December brought no change then everybody still said "no dont worry, this winter is still young. It will turn colder" sure enough, no it didnt. Winter NEVER came and I had tulips blooming in February & my dogwoods were peaking in March. I remember that March weekend like it was yesterday. 86 degrees and people were soaking up some sun by the pool and i was just lost. Never in my life ive seen swimmers in mid-March. In the Mid Atlantic beaches it was as if it was May & I saw a headline that said "Welcome to May, in March" What caused this nonsense? and will I see tulips in February again? Is so, im going to take myself to the doctor to see if its just me haha!

I think you will save on that

I think you will save on that doctor bill.

Hi Evelyn,I think you covered

Hi Evelyn,I think you covered the whole US except the S.W.part of Tennessee about two hours east of Memphis. Can you forcast any snow? It hardley ever snows here. We just get ice. I WANT SNOW. Thank you, DE

Your area is a great unknown,

Your area is a great unknown, very vulnerable to small changes of the Arctic Oscillation. You may have to visit a ski resort to get that snow.

Ive been hearing that

Ive been hearing that guidance continues to show a return to more cold and snowy conditions this year in the northeast. Is this true? so we'll have a real winter this year?

The Arctic Oscillation was

The Arctic Oscillation was more positive for a longer time last winter than it has been in a century. It will be more normal, more real this winter.

Im cold. Im inside on my

Im cold. Im inside on my laptop with the heater on in the living room. Here its 40 degrees outside going down into the 20s tonight in Ohio. brrrr!! im concerned about winter.. is this a taste of whats to come this winter? and will we have more of these bitter cold days through the rest of the fall?

Sorry, yes. It should warm up

Sorry, yes. It should warm up if El Nino arrives.

whats up with el nino Evelyn?

whats up with el nino Evelyn? Its been terribly bone dry for a looong time here in northeastern Texas. El Nino is whats given us hope and to hear that we may not even have an el nino is very depressing!! We need that colder and wetter winter here. Can you explain to me whats going on here? The Lonestar State cant afford another La Nina. Please tell me were still on track to have atleast a weak-moderate el nino by winter? This country was in bad enough shape this year

It is almost certain that

It is almost certain that there won't be another cool Pacific La Nina, thank goodness. However, a lot of scientists that were saying there would be an El Nino have been baffled. Last month they were saying there was an 80% of the El Nino would arrive in late August/early fall, now they think it may be a 50% chance that it will arrive. Texas needs that El Nino for good rain.

Bring it on!!!! After the hot

Bring it on!!!! After the hot summer i think we all dream of winter this year. Its amazing how close were actually getting to wintertime. In Pennsylvania we also get pretty darn cold in the winter but a winter wonderland is what i dream of right now. Im just waiting on our first frost. Will the fall remain colder than normal?

It may not be colder than

It may not be colder than normal but it definitely be colder and stormier than last year.

I hate winter. ewww!! in

I hate winter. ewww!! in virginia i have mornings where temps are well below 10 degrees and i have to take 15 minutes to scrape my car off from ice then keep it running for 10 minutes in the frigid cold. Then i constantly have to watch for ice on the roads! My kids just looovee the snow but winter can shut down roads and cities. I remember the blizzard of February 2010. Snow was 26 inches deep and we were digging out paths to get outside and power was out for a week. I have pictures of snow up to our upper legs and in March of 1993 i will never forget. My biggest snow ive seen in my life. Even last winter was no break! We still had a foot of snow last February. I guess the truth is, there is no escaping winter. I need a winter vacation Evelyn haha!!

Both Florida and the

Both Florida and the Caribbean agree that you need that vacation on their warm, sunny shores!

cant wait for cooler weather

cant wait for cooler weather and i hate winter.North Carolina weather has been screwy for the last couple of years, any changes for the coming winter??

It's North Carolina -- so

It's North Carolina -- so even though you can expect colder and wetter winter weather than last year -- it will stay screwy! :)

What about Colorado? We have

What about Colorado? We have been above normal temps. Will we have a bad winter or mild winter?

Usually El Ninos bring normal

Usually El Ninos bring normal to cool winters.

I am on the central coast of

I am on the central coast of California and am wondering if we are looking forward to lots of rain on the west coast and specifically like i mentioned the central coast of california? :-) <3 Gary

Normally (unfortunately not

Normally (unfortunately not always) El Ninos bring welcome rain to California, especially along the coast.

What if el nino never shows

What if el nino never shows up? it is so weak out in the pacific right now it cant even qualify for an el nino. What if we dont even have an el nino this winter? im depressed :( i want a colder and snowier winter in north carolina

The odds are in your favor.

The odds are in your favor. Most of the scientists I talk to still expect El Nino conditions this winter.

Hi Evelyn! I checked the

Hi Evelyn! I checked the latest 8-14 day outlook which goes through mid October. I see that we're in the dark blue/purple. Are these clues that the negative NAO is setting up and we will bracing for a colder winter? I have a feeling.. Old man winter ISNT letting us off the hook this year. I live in eastern Ohio toward WV line. Should I take out my coats now?

One of the clues is the

One of the clues is the warmer water in the North Atlantic. Another clue, if you want to cheat, is that NOAA posts a two-week warning at:
It isn't always accurate, but it is the best that the short-term weather service can provide.

Are weak el ninos good for

Are weak el ninos good for making decent episodes of snowstorms and arctic air in the northeast? And i heard we will probably have blocking this winter.. Is this true? so the cold season wont have a problem getting here this year!

Frequently weak El Ninos

Frequently weak El Ninos create warm air in the Northwest but their impact does not reach the Northeast, or only affects the region for a short time. So if you are in the Northeast and like your snow, you probably will get it.

anyone get frost or ice yet?

anyone get frost or ice yet?

for us in the high desert

for us in the high desert fall doesn't start until after Halloween....E

That's one of the reasons I

That's one of the reasons I live in the high desert. I saw enough snow when I was a child in Buffalo, New York.

Aww glad to see

Aww glad to see you. Those hot, hazy days of summer will now be a memory. I want cool, crisp mornings with dew spattered cobwebs hanging from the corners of my house. I want hot soups cooking all day in my slow cooker. I want days where cleaning up my gardens for the season is a pleasure. I am so ready for you Autumn!!

fall is the best

fall is the best

So what does all this mean

So what does all this mean for Alabama. I loved 2010-2011 winter. Seemed like it snowed every day. Want my 1 yr old to see the snow. I know it's al left up to what the Good Lord wants us to have.

Probably a cooler, wetter

Probably a cooler, wetter winter, but not a repeat of snowy 2010 -2011.

Could we see any chilly

Could we see any chilly blasts of air in October to produce frost (that would help the allergies and the number of bugs) in the northeast? Im about SICK of above normal temperatures. We've seen enough of it. We have had way too much of our share of warmer than normal temps. I want a nice cool autumn filled with pumpkins, apple cider, beautiful colors and i wanna wear my sweater! Do you think were done with the extremes of 2012? as if things will quiet down during the fall season?

I don't know where you are

I don't know where you are writing from, but some parts of the country are getting cold air this week. Hopefully you are in the right area for cold, cider and colors.

So AO v El Nino... what does

So AO v El Nino... what does this mean for Hudson Bay and its bears?

The AO normally rules Hudson

The AO normally rules Hudson Bay. However, it is battling the fact that this year's fast flow of the Atlantic has poured an abnormal amount of warm water into the bay. It has not been good for the bears this year and recovery should take a while.

What's in store for western

What's in store for western Oregon this fall?

Normally El Nino means warmer

Normally El Nino means warmer and wetter.

What will a weaker El Nino do

What will a weaker El Nino do for the midwest? Say southeast Missouri for Fall and Winter...

The weaker the El Nino, the

The weaker the El Nino, the cooler and drier the fall outlook for the Midwest would be.

Don't forget us

Don't forget us west-coasters! Here in California we depend greatly on the Sierra snowpack. Will El Nino affect the snow this year? And what about the rain in Northern California this year? I just have so many questions!

Usually an El Nino is great

Usually an El Nino is great news for Northern California. Indeed, some El Nino years have Californians complaining about too much rain!

Thank you so much for the

Thank you so much for the info. I love the rain, so fingers crossed!

:)))!!! a colder fall and

:)))!!! a colder fall and winter is all i could ever ask for. right or wrong? the little boy likes to play naughty on the east coast? he will make powerful nor'easters rear up the coast and when it comes together with the colder air up north, snow will be dumped. Autumn is a war between summer and winter. So who will win out come November? I took my AC out my window, so summer better not show her face again. My maples and dogwoods are bursting with red and those 40 degree nights have me thinking.. is autumn here to stay? If the negative NAO trend continues then frost will be here soon. How I love fall and winter in the east

The weaker the El Nino, the

The weaker the El Nino, the cooler the fall and winter tend to be for the Northeastern and Mid Atlantic states. At the moment the little boy looks as if he will be weak to moderate, so you can expect some cold.


Hi!How it is looking for the

Hi!How it is looking for the Northwest(Oregon and Washington)? Are we going to have another 1968-69 or a 2008 type winter? It`s been colder then normal at night here and my garden didn`t do very well this year because of the cool and non-sunny days. Please let me know what you think.
Hope you have a GREAT day!


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