As snow is falling across portions of Kansas today, read the latest winter weather outlook for Kansas. What are the chances of seeing more precipitation this winter? Will it be warmer than normal?
Snowy scene outside Throckmorton Plant Sciences Center in Manhattan on November 22, 2019. Photo by Kathy Gehl, K-State Research and Extension.
Understanding Climate Outlook Probabilities
The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) takes a scientific, quantitative approach to the outlooks through the use of probabilities: either Above Normal, Equal Chances, or Below Normal. Uncertain outlooks are classified as “Equal Chances”, meaning there is statistically little confidence in either above/below with possible normal conditions as a third outcome.
Kansas Winter Outlook for 2019-2020
For the winter season, the CPC looks at the average outlook for December, January, and February. The latest winter climate outlook (and last before winter begins) was issued on November 21st. This winter outlook calls for a slight chance of warmer-than-normal conditions in southwest Kansas, with equal chances of above- or below-normal temperatures across the rest of the Northern Plains (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Winter Temperature Outlook for December, January, and February. Southwest Kansas has a slight chance of above-normal temperature, with the rest of Kansas falling into the “Equal Chances” category for either normal, above-normal, or below-normal temperatures. www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov
The moisture outlook is for equal chances of precipitation for all but the northern most parts of Kansas, where there is a slight chance of above-normal precipitation (Figure 2). This represents little change from previous outlooks released this fall. The outlook for wetter-than-normal conditions in the northern Plains is likely to continue to cause flooding issues, particularly in the northeastern parts of Kansas.
Figure 2. Winter Precipitation Outlook for December, January, and February. Most of Kansas falls into the “Equal Chances” category for either normal, above-normal, or below-normal precipitation. Only extreme northern areas of Kansas are classified with a slight chance of above-normal precipitation. www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov
This pattern is likely to be the result of a continuation of weather seen this fall. That includes periods of mild temperatures quickly supplanted by much colder Arctic air. It is also important to note that given the dry nature of winter in Kansas, a single active storm could change the scale to wetter than normal. Even much wetter-than-normal conditions in southwest Kansas would need to continue into the spring to erase the existing moderate to extreme drought (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Drought Monitor for Kansas released on November 21, 2019. A small section of Extreme Drought (D3) was added in southwestern Kansas. Several locations in this region have reported less than one-half inch of precipitation since September 1.
There has also been some talk of a Modaki El Niňo. Modaki comes from a Japanese term meaning “similar but different”. The difference is a Modaki El Niňo refers to warmer-than-normal surface water temperatures in the central Pacific, rather than the more typical El Niňo which is based on the eastern Pacific. The influences of a Modaki El Niňo on ocean-atmosphere teleconnections tend to be more concentrated in the Central Pacific and Australia, rather than basin-wide. Research is still trying to answer the question of what, if any, impact might be seen in the United States.
Mary Knapp, Assistant State Climatologist and Weather Data Library