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Cold Snaps Possible in Winter 2021-22

While winters overall have been trending mild over the past couple decades, we could see at least one cold month in the next three.  I would not expect the winter cold to be long-lasting.  Only two winters in the past 45 years have brought colder than average temperatures in three consecutive months to the Nation as a whole.

October in Review

The middle month of autumn was the Nation’s sixth warmest and ninth wettest on record.  The warmth was most pronounced from the Midwest into the Northeast while the Desert Southwest was actually cooler than normal.  Above normal precipitation in California and Nevada was welcomed after recent drought, while from the Northern Plains into the Midwest many states saw October ranking in the top ten wettest.

Autumn so Far

With September the ninth warmest on record, and the northwest half of the Nation having a mild start to November, we’re on track for this autumn to rank among the top ten warmest.  September was wet in the Northeast but was not wet for the Nation overall.  In fact it was quite a bit drier than normal in most states from the Mississippi River to the Rockies.

Rest of November

November started warm in the West and Northern Plains and was cooler than normal in most of the southeast half of the Country.  Temperatures may be fluctuating either side of normal through the middle and possibly late parts of the month.

Winter Months of December through February

The contiguous 48 states have been in a cycle of warmer than normal winters.  The past seven winters were warmer than the long-term average.  As shown on this chart of December through February temperature history, of all the winters since 2000, just four have averaged colder than normal. 

Only one of these 21 winters since the turn of the century saw December through February temperatures average more than one degree colder than the long-term normal.

Yet within some of these mild winters there have been some notable periods of extreme cold.  Just nine months ago, the Nation experienced its coldest February since 1989!  If we’re going to see unusually cold weather this winter, it’s likely to be transient and not something that persists.  Based on a combination of long-term studies, December looks like the most likely month for colder than normal weather in the coming winter, followed by February.  Recent long-range models have not been supportive of cold weather this December, but these models are notoriously fickle.

It has been more than ten years (2010-11) since each of the three winter months was colder than normal.  In that winter, though, all months were just slightly colder than normal.  Before that, we have to look all the way back to 1978-79 to find such a consistently cold winter.  That was also was the Nation’s coldest winter on record.   The late 1970s had a series of incredibly cold winters.  The three consecutive winters starting in 1976-77 were the three coldest in the last 85 years!

Early Look at Spring

Several analog years have shown an early start to spring warmth, and early indications are that March of 2022 could be quite mild.   If that occurs, the above normal temperatures would be most favored in the Eastern US and the southern Plains.

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