Sep 262013
 

A recent question I have heard frequently is “Since the monsoon season was so wet, does that mean we will have a snowy winter.” A few years ago, the National Weather Service in Flagstaff included a slide in their winter outlook presentation that showed no clear link between summer and winter precipitation. In general, given the mechanisms for out summer and winter weather patterns, they shouldn’t be linked.

I cover the summer monsoon pattern in detail on this link: Summer Monsoon Mechanics. In this season, a thermal low develops over the deep southwestern United States. Also, a high pressure system forms over the middle of the country. The anticyclonic and cyclonic flows around these systems drive flow from the south and southeast. This flow draws up moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and the west coast of Mexico. Since the jet stream remains far to the north, these systems can be fairly stable. The big disruption of the monsoon pattern usually comes from hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico. Interestingly, this year’s hurricane season has been anemic with only 2 hurricanes forming in the Atlantic. The other very wet year, 1986, saw a season total of 4 hurricanes.

Summer Monsoon Season Pattern

Summer Monsoon Season Pattern

In our winter pattern, the jet stream drops farther to the south and drives strong storms from west to east. In winters with a El Nino in the equatorial Pacific, the jet stream can split in two. One jet remains to the south and carries storms across the southern tier of states. The moisture reservoirs for the winter pattern end up being different from the summer. One supply area is from a large area near the Hawaiian Islands. When this water is warmer than normal it can be a powerful moisture supply. This happened in December of 2010. The other moisture supply can be from the equatorial Pacific in El Nino years. Occasionally, in very cold years, the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of Mexico can be warmer than normal and provide limited moisture.