After a summer that didn’t feel that much like a summer at all–we only had one stretch of hot weather and it never hit 100° at K.C.I. this year–are we getting set for a brutally cold and snowy winter? The short answer: not necessarily.
Many have already asked: since the Summer was cooler and wetter than usual, it MUST mean we are going to see a lot of snow and major cold this winter, right? The truth is: there is no scientific correlation between Summer and Winter. Sorry.
Believe me, meteorologists have been studying this for decades and cannot find a shred of evidence to connect the two. Sure, in some years we have had a cool/wet summer and then a cold/snowy winter. But that happened by chance, not by cause and effect. Often times, as humans, it’s our own memory that fools us into thinking there is a connection.
Let’s get our geek on for a second here.
See, in the summertime our weather is primarily driven by TWO jetstreams. A Polar Jet and a Subtropical Jet.
Remember a jetstream is a narrow river of air moving faster than the air around it and found at particular altitudes. The Polar Jet usually resides at 25 to 35 thousand feet above us, while the Subtropical Jet resides around 35 to 50 thousand feet above us. In the Summer, the Polar Jet is typically confined to the Northern portion of Alaska and the Subtropical Jet moves around the lower portion of the United States.
The wavering of these two jetstreams are what impacts our weather. Super hot days are caused by the Subtropical Jet getting pushed farther North and us getting trapped underneath. Cold snaps, like we saw in Kansas City several times this season, are caused when the Polar Jet is pushed farther South than usual.
Okay, so that briefly explains the Summer setup. What about Winter? There are other “flows” at work in the atmosphere besides the jetstream. One being the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO or El Nino) and another being the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). These two flows also help to shape our winter weather and play a role in if we get cold air or warm air, or if we get dry days or snowy days.
I could spend a long time boring you with all that technical stuff. Just know there are a lot of factors to consider in each season and it’s not as simple as A equals C and B equals D. The drivers of winter weather are different than those of summer weather.
Let’s boil it down to numbers, side-by-side, so you can see how this all shakes out.
Listed here are the top 20 coolest summers and the top 20 coldest winters in Kansas City. I compiled this data via the NWS and plugged it into a worksheet to make easier use of the numbers (and to help keep my math correct). This data is based on the KCI reporting site, which is considered the official reporting site for Kansas City by the National Weather Service.
The Summer months are considered June, July, and August. Winter months are considered December, January, and February.
Notice something? There is no real pattern here. Only twice did a cool summer coincide with a cold winter. That means, statistically speaking, there’s only a 10% chance that a cold winter will follow a cool summer.
One thing I noticed, however, is that our average temperature this summer was 75.13°. That put it in the top 30 of coolest summers, just barely missing this list.
So what about precipitation? Here again let’s compare the numbers.
Once again, there is no pattern that jumps out at all. I did highlight years where we went from one extreme to the other (a dry summer to a wet winter, or from a wet summer to a dry winter). It should be noted that the last two winters were considered wet.
Even comparing the charts and seeing if a cool summer means a wet winter (or a cool summer meaning a dry winter), there is no direct connection.
So the bottom line here: you cannot say with any certainty that an X and Y summer will lead to an A and B winter. You just cannot. Therefore, it’s too early to hedge bets on how the winter will stack up.
As you know, our team will be working on the winter forecast over the next few weeks as a new pattern takes shape. Chief Meteorologist Gary Lezak will use his LRC theory to help make the winter forecast and get you prepared for what may come our way.
Be sure to keep checking back for when our winter weather special will make air so you can start making plans. In the meanwhile, don’t get too worried about the cooler than average summer leading to a brutally cold and snowy winter. Scientifically speaking, there is no direct connection between the two seasons.
Data and information was collected in part from the National Weather Service and the National Climate Data Center, and data was compiled between September 10th and September 13th, 2014.
My thanks to Patrick Trudel for pointing out some issues with some of the early data entries. There was a miscommunication on the data I was seeking versus what was given to me; that has been corrected. I apologize for any confusion.
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