What’s Going on With Winter? What Can We Expect?


Satellite image of Michigan from Jan. 25, 2022. Courtesy NOAA.

The old saying goes, “If you don’t like the weather in Michigan, wait a minute.”

It’s certainly true this winter thus far. We’ve already had sub-zero wind chill blizzard warnings in the first month and balmy, even humid days in the 50s (touching 60 on Jan. 4).

Good grief. What’s going on? What can we expect from here on out?

A review of the National Weather Service report for Southeast Michigan’s winter shows it’s all going according to plan, well, forecast.

In short, the predictive weather models lean toward above-normal precipitation Dec. – Feb. But the big question is whether it will be snow or rain. Sorry, but nobody knows. The joker in this climatic deck of cards is the temperature. The models are unable to predict with any certainty if temps will be above, near, or below normal. We’re relegated to a forecast a few days out, which doesn’t always pan out either.

Winter temperature and precipitation outlook. Courtesy National Weather Service.

The stinker causing all the trouble is La Niña. This weather pattern occurs when winds blow the warm water away from South America to Indonesia. As the warm water vacates, cold water rises to take its place. Moving this much heat across a quarter of the planet dramatically affects weather patterns. This is the third consecutive winter La Niña has visited us.

La Niña will again dictate the atmospheric patterns this winter. This typically means a wetter winter with strong temperature variability for Michigan. We don’t know until a few days out if the precipitation will be rain or snow.

La Niña’s impact on ocean temperatures. Note the sizeable blue wedge of colder water extending off the coast of South America. Courtesy NOAA.

This information is historically based. In roughly half of the 28 La Niña winters since 1925, Michigan experienced above-normal average temperatures but not by much—about a half degree. In more than half of those La Niña winters, precipitation for the state was 105-120% of an average winter.

This is good news for Southeast Michigan’s drought condition. Going into winter, we were in abnormally to moderate drought conditions. If La Niña produces, drought conditions could be alleviated as soon as the end of January.

La Niña blows warm water west, away from South America to Indonesia. The reciprocal event is the Arctic Oscillation blowing colder, wetter air into North America. Courtesy National Weather Service.

So it sounds like a sloppy winter ahead. But it could be worse. In the northern plain states, La Niña drops the temperature and increases the snow storms. For us in Southeast Michigan, we’ll just have to hang our raincoat and winter coat next to each other. Take heart. In only 66 days (as of this writing), we move our clocks forward to extend the day. That’s less time than from the start of school to Thanksgiving. We got this.

The complete National Weather Service Report can be found at the link below.

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