Editor’s Note: Ray Schmitt is co-founder and Anthony Atlas, is head of Agriculture and Supply Chain at Salient Predictions. With all eyes on gas prices globally, here they offer predicitions for the winter ahead in the Northern Hemisphere.
As we get deeper into fall, we are all reminded that winter is not far behind and with it the potential for cold and snow for the northern half of the country. The outlook is of particular interest this year because of the disruption of gas supplies in Europe by the Russian war on Ukraine, and project delays holding back the growth of domestic supplies in the United States. There is strong competition for liquified natural gas (LNG) which has become particularly important for heating and electrical power generation in both the US Northeast and in Europe. When heating demand rises, there’s also increased competition for propane, a common fuel source for drying grain crops and maintaining optimal climate conditions inside greenhouses. Propane prices can fluctuate dramatically within a season and weather is a major driver. Heating demand also competes with the energy needs of food and beverage processing plants. Deep into the winter they operate around the clock to produce food for the coming year.
So how cold will it be? Fortunately, the long-range forecasts have above normal winter temperatures for much of the lower 48.
Figure 1 below shows the forecasted temperature anomalies (deviations from historical average) for the months of December, 2022 through January and February of 2023 in North America, for Salient’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) model (Fig.1.a). The long-range spring forecast for March April & May is shown in Fig. 1.b.
The winter outlook is warm for the southern US but has generally cooler than normal temperatures from interior Maine to Montana, with coastal Maine trending warm. This suggests cover crops planted in the fall in the northern most states will need to be especially cold tolerant to succeed this winter. Spring temperatures look to be even warmer than normal, except for interior Maine and northern Montana. For producers in the central great plains, a warmer than normal spring is one factor supporting an early sowing decision (we would have to consider the soil moisture outlook as well). This bodes well if you are in Kansas and planning to double crop a spring and summer planted crop. Of course, as spring approaches, the forecast for the summer months will be critical to consider as well. If the summer forecast suggests above average temperatures, the risk of extreme heat decimating a late planted crop may outweigh the expected value of any double crop. A heat wave during a critical crop development window like pollination will erase prior gains. In that scenario, getting an earlier jump on your main cash crop to maximize its yields while minimizing risk may be the ‘Moneyball’ move. We will have to watch this closely to see how the season develops.
The cooler Maine average forecast could result from a phenomenon known as blocking that can set up for a week to ten days and slow the normal west to east progression of weather systems. If weather systems keep moving west to east then any one wind direction does not have time to dramatically change the local temperature. However, if the arrangements of high and low pressure systems lock into a particular pattern for a week or more, then an extreme of temperature could be realized. That is, if northwest winds persist over Maine for a week, they can transfer colder air from the north, creating an acute cold snap that lowers the season average temperature. Such blocking seems to be increasingly frequent as the planet warms. We have recently seen how hurricane & extra-tropical storm Ian was very slow to move eastward, when it lingered off the US coast for nearly a week while soaking southern New England and the Mid-Atlantic states with heavy rainfall. So, we fully expect similar blocking behavior to occur this winter, leading to a few cold snaps in the Northeast that will be counterbalanced by a generally warmer than average temperatures, except in Maine where they will be severe enough to bring down the season average.
The demand for natural gas in Europe this winter is of great concern because of the cut-off of supplies from Russia, due to its war on Ukraine. Fortunately, the weather outlook for the coming winter in Europe is also on the warm side in both Winter and Spring forecasts (Figure 2.a, 2.b). Only Spain and Portugal look to be cooler than normal. While a warmer than normal average winter temperature may be good news, the timing of any cold snaps could be crucial. That is, assuming adequate supplies of LNG have been stockpiled at the start of winter, a few severe cold snaps in January might deplete supplies in some areas to cause shortages later on in the season. While we hope that an overall mild season alleviates some of the pressure on Europe’s energy supply this winter, much will depend on the timing and severity of short duration cold-air outbreaks. Those can be better anticipated weeks ahead, not months, so our weekly updated outlooks for weeks 2-5 should be particularly useful.
Ray Schmitt, PhD is an emeritus research scholar at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution president and co-founder of Salient Predictions. He has over 40 years of experience in oceanographic theory, observations and instrument development, at WHOI with over 100 refereed publications and over 11,000 citations He was the NASA Salinity Science Team Leader from 2006 to 2016 and served two terms on the NASA Earth Sciences Advisory Committee. He also serves on the boards of non-profits concerned with marine energy and ocean solutions to climate change.
Anthony Atlas is head of agriculture and supply chain at Salient Predictions. He has led commercialization and go-to-market for several ground-breaking climate tech and agri-tech companies, including Salient, ClimateAi, and Ceres Imaging. He is the co-founder of the Stanford alumni in food & ag and passionate about advising and mentoring innovators working to solve mission-critical problems.