Insights & News

Winter 2022 in Europe & North America: Chilling Signs

23rd November 2021

Another winter looms for the Northern Hemisphere – and MetSwift’s in-house analogues-driven model has made some startling predictions. This may not be the easiest of winters for northern parts of Europe and the US. Read on for a full by-month, continental breakdown of MetSwift’s winter 2022 outlook.

Please note that this is a probabilistic outlook which indicates the most likely outcomes based on selected historical years (‘analogues’). These are chosen based on how large scale phenomena behaved and how that compares with the latest consensus for their evolution during winter 2022.

December in Europe:
Dry & Locally Cold Northwest, Wet Southeast

The MetSwift analogues predict a ‘quiet’ December for much of Europe, with fewer Atlantic storms than usual. That means below normal rainfall, while cold temperatures occur more often usual.

Exceptions are southern Spain and Southeast Europe, where a more unsettled tendency is suggested, brining above average rainfall. Flooding could become a concern in places.

This prediction is close to that of several long-range forecast models run by other institutions.

December in North America:
Cold Dry Southeast, Very Dry Southwest

Like with Europe, shortfalls of wet weather predominate the outlook. This is mostly in southern USA, which is typical when there is a La Niña event ongoing, such as we currently have. The prediction of above normal cold day frequency in the US Southeast is also worth noting, though its limited coverage doesn’t suggest major cold spells.

January in Europe: Cold in the North

For the middle month of winter, the MetSwift Analogues’ prediction for Europe is likely to raise some eyebrows.

Cold weather is suggested to be more frequent than usual across much of the northern half of Europe. This is associated with an above-normal frequency of high pressure in the vicinity of Iceland – a negative NAO pattern. With precipitation (rain, snow, etc) near normal, snowfall is suggested to occur more often than usual.

In contrast, most other long-range forecast models predict a milder, wetter tendency, with a positive NAO. Digging down into the MetSwift Analogues, I have found that the negative NAO prediction is mainly a result of a cold eastern tropical Pacific coinciding with a very warm North Atlantic. It will be interesting to see if this makes for a more accurate January 2022 prediction.

January in North America:
Cold and Snowy North, Very Dry South

This month is suggested to see more in the way of cold, snowy weather than usual in central and western Canada and the US Northwest. Meanwhile, a shortfall of wet weather continues for the south, where preconditioning for warm season drought could become a concern.

Interestingly, other forecast model predictions are mostly similar here, unlike for Europe.

February in Europe: More of the Same

In fact, there is a stronger, more widespread signal for more cold days than usual in northern Europe. Not only that, but precipitation is predicted to be above average in many western parts. That translates to well above normal snowfall frequency.

Again, this is associated with a negative NAO pattern, but this time, the main cause is different. I’ll get to that shortly (see ‘East Pacific’ La Niña section).

February in North America:
Wetter for Most, Milder in Western Canada

The standout here is a higher than usual frequency of wet days in the US Northwest and many parts of Canada. While there’s no signal for anomalous temperatures, near-average in February is often cold enough for snowfall in these regions. Accumulations could be substantially above normal.

Further south, a rainfall shortage is again suggested, but for a smaller area, not reaching as far north as in January.

‘East Pacific’ La Niña

Now, as a special feature, I’m going to take a more detailed look at the primary cause of the MetSwift Analogues’ striking prediction for February 2022 in northern Europe.

In recent decades, forecasters have typically referred to either El Niño or La Niña events when reasoning long-range forecasts. The former features widespread warmer than usual waters in the central & eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. The latter, widely colder than normal.

This says nothing of the distribution within – which some research suggests may be very important.

MetSwift have classified three distinct sub-types: Central Pacific (CP), East Pacific (EP), and Basin-Wide (BW). That refers to whether the anomalously warm or cold waters are focused centrally, in the east, or not at all (evenly spread across both), respectively. Below, composites are shown for the EP and CP sub-types of La Niña in Jan-Feb:

Plots of mean sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly for historical years in which there was (left) an EP La Niña configuration and (right) a CP La Niña configuration in the tropical Pacific Ocean.

Plots of mean sea surface temperature (SST) anomaly for historical years in which there was (left) an EP La Niña configuration and (right) a CP La Niña configuration in the tropical Pacific Ocean.

These are clearly distinct from one another. Near the dateline along the equator, an EP La Niña is typically over 1°C warmer than a CP La Niña. It’s also more than 1°C colder in the east, near South America.

The MetSwift Analogues are predicting an EP La Niña for February 2022. Notably, such a configuration has already started to take shape in the past fortnight:

Map showing the weekly-averaged sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the tropical Pacific for 14th-20th November 2021. Note the location of the most negative values (dark blue), close to South America. Adapted from https://psl.noaa.gov/map/clim/sst.shtml.

Map showing the weekly-averaged sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the tropical Pacific for 14th-20th November 2021. Note the location of the most negative values (dark blue), close to South America.

Comparing the typical sea-level pressure pattern seen during all historical EP La Niña Februarys with that of the MetSwift Analogues, great similarity can be seen:

…and the EP La Niña has been found to be the main factor behind the notably cold prediction for Northern Europe in February 2022.

In case you’re wondering, such similarity is not seen for January, further supporting my earlier deduction that a cold eastern tropical Pacific coinciding with a very warm North Atlantic is the dominant factor for that month:

In Summary: More Cold Weather Than Usual for Many, Drought Concerns for Southern US

The MetSwift Analogues suggest that after a nondescript start, northern parts of Europe and North America will have to contend with more in the way of severe winter weather than usual this winter: An above normal frequency of ice and snow events in Jan-Feb.

The other main talking point is a concerning signal for rainfall shortages in at least 2 of the 3 months for many southern parts of the US. Groundwater levels will bear close monitoring as winter gives way to spring 2022.

James Peacock MSc
Head Meteorologist at MetSwift

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