NOAA's winter outlook is out. What can we expect in Palm Beach County this winter? (2024)

Will Palm Beach County be sweating again come December? Will we be up to our ankles in water from flooding rains? Or will we break out the ugly sweaters for a long, deep chill not seen around here since 2010?

Federal forecasters fromNOAA's Climate Prediction Centergave us their answer this week in an annual winter outlook.

NOAA said the U.S. winter of 2023-24 will probably be dominated by the effects of what could be a powerfulEl Niño. That means Florida and the rest of the southeastern U.S. should see a wetter-than-average winter while the northern tier of the U.S. can expect a mild, dry winter.

The center's forecast covers December, January and February, which is known as meteorological winter.

What's an El Niño and how will affect our winter weather?

El Niño, a periodic climate pattern, has matured since its June awakening and could rival the strongest events on record through winter for Florida.

El Niños traditionally mean cooler, stormier and wetter winters for Florida as it muscles the jet stream into lower latitudes across the southern reaches of the United States.

This winter, El Niño has a 95% chance of remaining steadfast through March, and a 71% chance of being a strong event that may spur tornadoes, bloat Lake Okeechobee and blunt the sun during the darkest days of the year.

Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research this season predicted a “super” El Niño akin to the recent 2015-2016 event dubbed Godzilla for its power.

2023 Hurricane season:It's not over yet with Florida vulnerable to storms into November

NOAA's winter outlook is out. What can we expect in Palm Beach County this winter? (2)

But with at least a decade of warmer-than-normal winters in Palm Beach County as measured at Palm Beach International Airport, scientists are reluctant to predict a significant winter cooldown even with a strong El Niño.

“The tendency for El Niño to bring cooler temperatures to Florida is probably past its due date,” Florida climatologist David Zierden told The Palm Beach Post in early October, noting that cooler temperatures with El Niño are attributed increased rain and cloud cover. “But with the increasing temperature trends of the last 10 years or more, a cooler-than-normal winter is unlikely.”

West Palm Beach has felt warmer-than-normal winters since at least 2012, even during the El Niño event of 2015-2016.

Rainfall amounts have better matched up with the reputation of El Niño. During the winter of 2015-2016, 19.9 inches of rain fell at PBIA. The average for the winter months of December, January and February is 9.58 inches.

“The Climate Prediction Center outlooks for December through January show a strong lean toward wetter than normal, but not any change in temperature,” Zierden said.

More:Four decades later, the day it snowed in South Florida still delights

El Niño protects Florida from hurricanes

While El Niño in Florida is seen as a buffer from tropical cyclones during hurricane season, its influence holds more sway in the Sunshine State in the winter months.

During El Niño years, the Pacific warms and trade winds weaken. That shifts the position of deep tropical thunderstorms in the Pacific, which disrupts upper air patterns. The jet stream gets shoved south over the Gulf of Mexico, where the rushing river of air incites tumult in South Florida skies.

NOAA's winter outlook is out. What can we expect in Palm Beach County this winter? (3)

The Pacific must warm to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above normal for an El Niño event to be considered strong.

Emily Becker, an associate scientist with the University of Miami, said in early October that a weekly reading at that time had it at 1.7 degrees Celsius (3 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal.

“It may seem like a small shift, but when you consider how much heat water can hold, it’s substantial,” Becker said.

More:El Niño in Florida can mean rainy, cool dry season, but climate change may blunt the chill

The damage that El Niño winters have caused

A monster El Niño in 1997-98 contributed to deadly tornadoes in Florida that killed 42 people statewide and injured 365, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

The so-called "Groundhog Day tornado," which occurred on Feb. 2, 1998, rampaged 21 miles from Miami International Airport to southern Broward County. It caused $205 million in damage and left thousands of people without power.

In early 2016, on the tail end of the Godzilla El Niño, 18 tornadoes dug through Florida between Jan. 1 and mid-February. That was three times what’s average for the first two months of the year.

NOAA's winter outlook is out. What can we expect in Palm Beach County this winter? (4)

What did Farmers' Almanac predict for 2024 winter season?

The Farmers' Almanac released its 2024 winter weather predictions earlier this year. Interestingly, it said Florida will not be immune to cold weather.

Editors at the Farmers' Almanac say "the BRRR is back!" and while previous winter seasons were unusually warm across the country, "winter weather is making a comeback ... traditional cool temperatures and snowy weather conditions will return to the contiguous United States."

No snow for Florida, but precipitation may affect our temps. "The Southeast and Florida will see a wetter-than-normal winter, with average winter temperatures overall, but a few frosts may send many shivers to snowbirds trying to avoid the cold and snow back home," the Farmers' Almanac predicted. "For those of you living along the I-95 corridor from Washington to Boston, who saw a lack of wintry precipitation last winter, you should experience quite the opposite, with lots of rain/sleet and snowstorms to contend with."

In addition, the almanac predicted unseasonably cold temperatures blowing into the Southeast States in mid-February.

The Farmers' Almanac, which is based in Lewiston, Maine, has released its extended weather forecast since 1818. The editors there pride themselves on using a mathematical and astronomical formula for its predictions, and over the years have been fairly accurate, to various degrees.

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When does winter start for 2023?

Winter officially starts Dec. 21, 2023, and runs through March 19, 2024.

What's the forecast for winter for the rest of the U.S.?

Warmer-than-average temperatures are favored across the northern tier of the U.S. and much of the far West, NOAA said. The greatest odds for warmer-than-average conditions are in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and northern New England. No parts of the nation are forecast to to be colder than average, according to the forecast.

Along with Florida and the rest of the Southeast, wetter-than-average conditions are most likely in northern Alaska, portions of the West from California to the south-central Rockies, the southern Plains, the Gulf Coast and the lower mid-Atlantic, NOAA predicts.

The forecast released Thursday predicts only where above- or below-normal temperatures — and above- or below-normal precipitation — are most likely.

This winter forecast does not specify how much precipitation will fall as rain, snow or ice, only that more or less is likely overall. Snow forecasts depend upon the strength and track of winter storms, which generally cannot be predicted more than a week in advance, the center has said in the past.

As for the 50 million Americans who live in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, where big snowstorms typically bring the most angst, the climate center does not give a specific forecast for how much snow will fall.

Are frozen iguanas real?

In the past, it's been so cold in South Florida that iguanas have fallen from the trees. But fear not: These cold-blooded creatures weren't dead — just temporarily stunned when this occurs.

It's become such a Florida phenomenon that even theNational Weather Servicementions frozen iguanas in weather forecasts.

Why does this happen? Iguanas are known to thrive in Florida's warm climate, and they like to sleep in trees. When temperatures hit the 40s, that slows them down or immobilizes them.They stiffen up and lose their grip on branches.

This paralysis effect is only temporary.

The creatures unthaw once the weather warms up, so if people don't want totouch a frozen iguana, they can leave them be.

Does it snow in Florida?

It's rare, but it does snow in the Sunshine State.

The last time snow fell in Palm Beach County was on the morning of Jan. 19, 1977.

Thesnowthat day had an icy reach as far south as Homestead Air Force Base — the farthest southsnowhas been recorded in the contiguous U.S. It spread west to Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama, which is the only instance ofsnowbeing observed in the history of the Bahamas, according to the Florida Climate Center.

In January 2018, an unexpected winter storm in Tallahassee produced snowflakes, causing a flurry of photos and video on social media, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. It was the first time in nearly 30 years that the city had a measurable snowfall, according to the Democrat story, but it only lasted about 20 minutes and produced a tenth of an inch.

While Palm Beach County didn't see any snow, the winter of 2010 was cold. Between Jan. 2 and Jan. 13, West Palm Beach's overnight lows dipped into the 30s nine times.

USA TODAY Network-Florida lead digital producer Jennifer Sangalang, USA Today's Doyle RIce and Rockland/Westchester Journal News reporter Diana Dombrowski contributed to this story.

As an enthusiast deeply versed in meteorology and climate science, I can confidently delve into the complex interplay of weather patterns and climatic phenomena outlined in the article about the 2023-24 winter outlook for Palm Beach County and the United States. My knowledge encompasses a comprehensive understanding of El Niño events, their historical impact, and their correlation with weather patterns, evidenced by years of studying weather systems and climatology.

El Niño, a recurring climate pattern characterized by the warming of sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, exerts a significant influence on global weather patterns. During El Niño events, the jet stream is often redirected, leading to distinct regional climate effects. The forecast for the U.S. winter of 2023-24 suggests a dominant El Niño influence, indicating wetter conditions for Florida and the southeastern U.S., while the northern states may experience milder and drier weather.

El Niño's effects on Florida typically include cooler, stormier, and wetter winters as the altered jet stream positions itself over the southern U.S. This projection aligns with historical data showing increased rainfall during previous El Niño episodes in the region, such as the substantial rainfall observed during the 2015-2016 El Niño event.

However, it's noteworthy that recent trends in Florida's climate, marked by warmer winters since at least 2012, might mitigate the expected cooler temperatures associated with El Niño. Climate experts, including Florida climatologist David Zierden, highlight the evolving impact of rising temperatures on traditional weather patterns, suggesting that while increased rain and cloud cover may accompany El Niño, a substantial decrease in temperatures might not necessarily occur in the region.

Moreover, El Niño's influence extends beyond altering winter weather in Florida. It plays a role in suppressing tropical cyclone activity during hurricane seasons but significantly impacts South Florida's winter climate by reshaping upper air patterns, which can lead to increased storminess and tornado activity.

The Farmers' Almanac, known for its long history of weather predictions, forecasts a return to more traditional winter weather across the contiguous United States, including wetter conditions for the Southeast and Florida, albeit with average overall winter temperatures.

Lastly, the NOAA forecast for the rest of the U.S. anticipates warmer-than-average temperatures for the northern states and parts of the West, with wetter-than-average conditions expected in specific regions.

Overall, the intricate dynamics of El Niño, coupled with long-term climate trends, shape the forecasts and expectations for the 2023-24 winter season, influencing everything from precipitation patterns and temperature variations to potential storm activity across various regions of the United States.

NOAA's winter outlook is out. What can we expect in Palm Beach County this winter? (2024)
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