March 04, 2024

El Niño adds wrinkle to winter outlook

Chris Yates

PEORIA, Ill. — With the conclusion of harvest, many people probably wonder what lies ahead for winter. And, as always, there’s no shortage of opinions on the subject.

Sources such as the Farmers’ Almanac predict a “cold, stormy” winter season ahead. But the arrival of a strong El Niño, such as the one in place, typically tilts the pattern in Illinois toward a warm and mild winter, said Chris Yates, chief meteorologist with WMBD and WYZZ in Peoria.

Yates discussed the weather outlook for the rest of fall and winter during an interview with FarmWeek.

“We’re heading into a strong El Niño winter,” the meteorologist said. “An El Niño winter historically has been on the warmer and drier side and we tend to not have a lot of snow in the Midwest.”

“There have been exceptions, specifically during weak El Niño events,” he said. “But the stronger the El Niño, the warmer, drier and less snowy winters tend to be around here.”

That doesn’t mean Illinois will avoid run-ins with the Polar Vortex or big snow events this winter. But a typical El Niño winter also contradicts the Farmers’ Almanac outlook.

“Even if the forecast says it will be a warmer and less snowy winter, it doesn’t mean it won’t get cold,” Yates said. “It will mostly certainly still get cold and it’s still going to snow. There’s no stopping that.

“But, at the end of the day, we’ll probably be warmer than average and less snowy than average if history repeats itself.”

Yates analyzed the Farmers’ Almanac winter outlooks the past 10 years by comparing the actual precipitation, snowfall and temperature statistics from December through February each year. He reported the findings on his weather blog.

And, while it was spot on in consecutive years last decade, the Almanac’s long-range predictions are about as accurate as a coin flip.

“They had some good years and hit the nail on the head in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015,” Yates said of the Almanac winter outlooks. “But the forecasts weren’t as good beyond that.”

Yates gave six of the past 10 Farmers’ Almanac winter outlooks below-average to failing grades and scored four as average or better for accuracy.

Looking ahead, one of Yates’ top concerns remains a lack of moisture.

“The dry weather has been good for harvest,” he said. “But I imagine there are some concerns as we’re dealing with severe drought in some parts of the state.”

This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association.