This post will serve as a wrap-up to the 2015-2016 winter season, where we’ll look back at our winter forecast from November and see how we did compared to verification. We’ll also talk about what the upcoming months will look like at SCW, and give you some insight into where we plan to go in the future.
But first, before we get to any of that, I want to stop and say thank you to you, our loyal readers. It is because of you all that we have been able to continue to grow; crossing 15,000 likes on Facebook and over a quarter of a million views on our website this winter. Your insightful questions, beautiful photographs, and constructive criticisms allow us to be better at what we do, and we would not be where we are today without your continued support. For those of you who have been with us since the beginning, we’re glad that we can continue to count you among our most loyal followers as we have expanded from a blip on the radar into Connecticut’s largest independent source for forecasting, and that you have stuck with us throughout it all. For those of you who have found us more recently, we’re glad that you’ve joined us, and look forward to your readership and insight for many years to come! I truly mean it when I say that we have the most engaged group of followers on the Internet, and I, along with the entire forecast team, cannot thank you enough for it.
Now, onto grading the winter forecast. Back in early November, we released a comprehensive outlook as to how we thought this winter would play out, based on an aggregation of several key indicators used for seasonal forecasting. To refresh your memory, you can find it here. We made forecasts for monthly precipitation and temperature departures, as well as composite temperature, precipitation, and snowfall. To grade this forecast, we’ll use the following grading scheme. We’ll look at reports from Hartford and Bridgeport airports, as they are the two official climate stations in the state and have the easiest data to access and evaluate.
Monthly Precipitation – 25%(8.33% for each of December, January and February)
Monthly Temperature – 25%(8.33% for each of December, January and February)
Overall Precipitation – 15%
Overall Temperature – 15%
Overall Snowfall – 15%
Pattern Recognition and overall progression – 5%
In December, we saw the warmest December in recorded history at both Hartford and Bridgeport, smashing records by several degrees. While the magnitude of this warmth was forecast and unforeseen, our forecast was clear that the start of the winter would not feel like winter, and we stated clearly that prolonged patterns of snow and cold would be waiting until 2016. While our forecast of 3 to 4 degrees above normal was, by the numbers, a colossal bust, to actually forecast double digit anomalies from normal in either direction on a seasonal forecast is something that will almost never happen due to the sheer improbability of every factor lining up perfectly. We got the idea of well above normal right, and I’ll give us some credit for that. Grade: 6.5/8.33 = 78%
December Precipitation: December was a wet month compared to average, with 4.94” of precipitation at Bridgeport compared to a normal value of 3.33” and 4.25” at Hartford compared to a normal value of 3.44”. This averages out to 148% of normal at Bridgeport and 123% of normal at Hartford, which falls nicely in our forecast range of 120-160% of normal. We just squeaked in there on the lower end at Hartford(and some areas in the northwest portion of the state likely missed the lower end by a hair) so this isn’t a perfect call, but it’s overall solid. Grade: 8/8.33 = 96%
Here are December precipitation and temperature anomalies across the northeast.
In January, we called for a month of transition, with a shift from a pattern that was hostile for winter lovers into a pattern that would offer winter opportunities, especially during the second half of the month. While the winter opportunities were few in number, in magnitude, the only significant storm chance was quite impressive on the large scale, with areas from Washington DC to New York City seeing one of their largest snowstorms on record. We were on the northern fringe of that event here in Connecticut, with a sharp gradient across the state leading to snowfall totals of over a foot along the shoreline to absolutely nothing in the northwest corner of the state. Temperatures, however, remained consistently above normal, and our call for a step down to winter cold by the end of the month didn’t really verify. Final numbers for January were +4.1 at Hartford and +3.1 at Bridgeport, compared to our forecast of +1 to +2. Not a colossal bust, but not great either. Grade: 6/8.33 = 72%
Precipitation: In contrast to December, was a drier dry month across the state compared to normal, with 2.26” of liquid at Bridgeport(Normal = 3.10”) and 1.96” at Hartford(Normal = 3.23”). That’s well below our range of 120-160% of normal, and as such this call was a bust. Grade = 4/8.33 = 36%
Here are precipitation and temperature anomalies for January across the northeast.
In February, we expected sustained winter to finally set in, with below normal temperatures and the bulk of our seasonal snowfall. While February was the coldest month of the winter, temperatures were still solidly above normal at both of the major climate sites across the state. We did see one of the coldest nights on record across the northeast, with Central Park going below zero for the first time since 1994 and widespread record lows(in some cases close to all time for the month) across the state. Despite this taste of deep winter, the month was overall mild compared to normal, and aside from a five day period of crazy cold, generally well above normal. Bridgeport finished +2.4 for the month and Hartford finished +2.3, both substantially off our forecast range of -1 to -2. The arctic shot was cool(literally and figuratively), but otherwise, a generally mild month marks a bust for this forecast. Grade: 5/8.33 = 60%
Precipitation: February finally brought the sustained above normal precipitation that we were expecting for this winter, as well as the bulk of our seasonal snowfall. 4.90” of liquid fell at Bridgeport(Normal = 2.79”) and 4.87” fell at Hartford(Normal = 2.89”). That comes out to 170% of normal at Bridgeport and 168% of normal at Hartford, which is slightly above our forecast range of 120-160% of normal. Regardless of being slightly outside the range, our thoughts were for sustained above normal precipitation, and I’m happy with where it turned out overall. Grade: 7.5/8.33 = 90%
It’s also worth noting that February was the only month (besides April, which was well above normal) that came anywhere close to normal snowfall across the majority of the state(January was above normal right along the shoreline due to the blizzard, but well below normal elsewhere), with 14.2” at Hartford(Normal = 11.0”) and 13.9” at Bridgeport(Normal = 8.1”).
Here’s temperature and precipitation departures for February across the NE.
While not part of meteorological winter and thus not graded, March and April can often feature winter-like conditions, and this winter was no exception. We saw the largest April snowstorm we’ve had in years(6.9” at Hartford and a general 4-8” across most of the interior, although little to nothing on the coastline), with sleet and freezing rain thrown in there as well, which almost never happens in April. Temperatures continued to be warm, with a blowtorch of a month in March and near to slightly above normal in April.
The Big Picture
Temperatures: Overall, this winter was quite a warm one, with the astronomical departures in December spiking the seasonal departure up into the top warmest winters of all time. At Hartford, December was +11.7, January was +4.1, and February was +2.3, making for a three month average of +6.0. At Bridgeport, December was +11.8, January was +3.1, and February was +2.4, making for a three month average of +5.8. While our forecast was for above normal temperatures with a three month average of +1 to +2, we did not anticipate record levels of warmth throughout the winter, and as such, I think that our overall temperature score has some room for improvement. Grade: 11/15 = 73%
Precipitation: This winter, thanks to December and February, was a wetter one than normal, with Bridgeport clocking in at 12.10” of total liquid and Hartford at 11.08”. Normal at Bridgeport is 9.22”, making that total 131% of normal, and at Hartford, normal is 9.56”, making this seasons total 116% of normal. Compared to our forecast of 120-160% of normal, Bridgeport is right on the money, while Hartford is just a hair under the range. Despite the slight miss, we got the idea of well above normal right, and the difference of a blizzard by a few miles would have been all it took to put Hartford in the forecast range. As such, I’m very happy with this forecast. Grade: 14.5/15 = 97%
Snowfall: While in the raw numbers this winter is nowhere near the bottom for seasonal snowfall (in fact, it’s right around normal at Bridgeport thanks to the January blizzard), it never really felt like sustained winter was here in the snow department. What snow we got melted quickly, and what was lacking were the numerous smaller events(an inch here, three there, etc.), that usually marks winter in New England. Seasonal snowfall at Hartford totaled 26.9”, 13.6” less than the 40.5” seasonal average, while at Bridgeport, the total was 27.3”, just .3” less than the seasonal average of 27.6”. Adding the values together, that results in 54.2” of snowfall between the two stations, which is 80% of the combined average total of 68.1”. This falls towards the lower end of our forecast of 75-110% of normal snowfall, and considering that the northwest corner of the state saw almost no snow(and has the highest seasonal average of the state), reality was probably slightly lower than the 75% mark. However, the overall theme of a below average but not catastrophically bad(or good, depending on your personal preferences ;) ) season held true for most, and therefore I think our snowfall forecast was solid. Grade: 13.5/15 = 90%
Here are the seasonal(December-February for temps and precipitation, October-April for snowfall) anomalies.
Adding it all up, here are the final grades:
Monthly Temperatures: 17.5/25 = 70% à C-
Monthly Precipitation: 19.5/25 = 78% à C +
Overall Temperature: 11/15 = 73% à C
Overall Precipitation: 14.5/15 = 97% à A
Overall Snowfall: 13.5/15 = 90% à A-
Pattern Recognition: 4.25/5 = 75% à B
Final Grade: 80.25/100 = 80% à B-
As you probably have noticed, we’ve transitioned into our offseason routine here at SCW, which means posts (generally shorter and more factual as opposed to our discussions that take place during the winter) 2-3x per week with additional updates as necessary (usually during severe weather) on our social media platforms. Our planned schedule is for updates on Sundays (SA), Tuesdays(GP) and Thursdays(DB), however, between work, traveling, recovery from ACL surgery(At least I picked a good winter to cut my ski season short), and various other life obligations, the schedule is subject to change(and frequently will). You can always shoot us a message on Facebook if you need an up to the minute forecast and we will do our best to get back to you! We’ll begin transitioning back to our winter schedule in November with the release of the 2016-2017 SCW Winter Forecast, tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, November 1st. We’re also working on some exciting developments for next winter to enhance our user experience, including an updated website and hopefully a mobile app, and we look forward to unveiling our newest platforms this fall!
With that, we’re officially in offseason mode. We'll have our next forecasters discussion on Tuesday evening, or you can refer to yesterday's discussion for the forecast for the next few days. Thank you for reading SCW!