Winter storm scenario: 1 reason why this La Niña could bring a brutal storm to Michigan


I wrote twice recently about this coming winter. We expect a rare weather pattern that could put Michigan on an active storm track.

This winter will be the third consecutive winter with La Niña conditions. A La Niña is when much of the Pacific Ocean along the equator from South America to Indonesia has colder than normal surface waters.

Since our storm systems typically originate over the ocean, this change in water temperatures ultimately affects the storm’s path over the United States.

NOAA long-range forecasters say the third La Niña winter may have an even stronger connection to an active storm track for Michigan, compared to the first two La Niña winters in this rare three-year period.

We may use the terms “jetstream” and “storm track” interchangeably. The jetstream is the fastest stretch of strong winds blowing up to about 30,000 feet in the atmosphere. The centers of storm systems are produced under the strong winds of the jetstream.

So if La Niña changes the mean position of the jetstream, it will also change the storm’s track.

The December to February forecast clearly shows how NOAA forecasters believe the storm’s track will be over Michigan.

The track of winter storms could shift north and west this winter, putting Michigan near the center of storm tracks. (Mark Torregrossa | MLive)

Forecasters say they’ve discovered that the third year of La Niña may have a jet stream that stays west of the Appalachian Mountains. Typically, as you can see in my graph above, the most dominant mid-winter storm track is a track in the Atlantic Ocean. This causes storm centers to rapidly intensify and then move up the East Coast. In this type of typical storm track, the widespread winter weather shield misses Michigan to the east.

If the storm’s track shifts northwest this winter, Michigan could fall right into the center of the high humidity. The long range forecast for this winter points to a north and west shift in Michigan.

This does not mean that every storm system would be a huge snowstorm. This means that Michigan could have several very large areas of precipitation with high humidity by winter standards. A storm system I’m talking about could produce half an inch of moisture to 2 inches of moisture from extreme southeastern Michigan to western UP. So we would all have to deal with significant weather conditions. If the center of the storm moved over the Detroit area, southeastern Lower Michigan could see heavy winter rain, while central Lower has an ice storm and northern Lower and the UP have a snow storm. If the storm’s track is far south in northern Ohio, Michigan could experience snow and ice.

There could be two or three such storms this winter.

There are a few other things NOAA forecasters pointed out to me.

They estimate that the strongest connection to this storm pattern will occur in late winter and what some might call spring – February, March and April. So they warn us that this winter could drag on for some.

They also say this model could have wild temperature swings with a few weeks to a month of warmth after a spell of cold, snowy weather. That means we can get enough break from the harsh winter conditions that winter won’t be so long for some Michiganders.

All the scenarios the National Weather Service is talking about right now could make this winter one where you really have to keep an eye out for storms with me.


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