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Hot Summer = Cold Winter?

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Does our record-breaking hot summer mean that we are going to have an extremely cold winter? I have been asked this question about as many times as my children have asked for a treat after dinner. In short, the answer is no. However, a hot summer doesn't mean we won't have a cold winter either.

Meteorologists would love to be able to produce accurate seasonal forecasts. While the science of meteorology has come a long way in a relatively short period of time, it hasn't progressed to the point of being able to precisely forecast seasons. You may have heard something along the line of, "they can't get tomorrow's forecast right, what makes you think they are going to tell you what this winter will be." There are some fundamental differences in short-term forecasting (let's say 1-7 days) and long-term forecasting. (weekly, monthly, yearly outlooks) However, the atmosphere is extremely complex and dynamic regardless of the time frame.

Here is a simple, but effective example I often share with my introductory meteorology classes I teach. Let's say you are trying to travel from Oklahoma City to Tulsa, but you miss your turn and take I-40 instead of I-44. Initially, you are only 10 miles from where you needed to have been when you started the trip. An hour and a half later you arrive in Henryetta, OK and see an exit for Highway 75 North to Tulsa. You are now 53 miles south of Tulsa. In other words, a 10-mile mistake turned into a 53-mile mistake. Forecasting weather and climate often follow this example. The initial forecast being slightly off may not seem like much, but 7 days later the forecast looks like, well, you know.

I mentioned earlier how complex and dynamic the atmosphere is. Seasonal forecasting requires not only a complete understanding of planetary circulations and how they work together to produce certain weather patterns, but a totally accurate assessment of how the atmosphere looks (meteorologically speaking) right now. It suffices to say we aren't there yet. With that said, advancements in technology and forecasting continue to improve our ability to forecast accurately at greater ranges. Hopefully we will someday be able to tell you whether it will snow on a certain day next month or whether the ongoing drought will actually continue to persist. Anybody want a treat now?

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