Europeans and people living on the US East Coast are more likely to experience mild temperatures than a deep freeze this winter, easing any potential heating fuel constraints at a time when energy costs are rising.
Scientists at the Copernicus Climate Change Service, who updated their seasonal forecasts on Thursday, said temperatures were likely to be well above normal during the peak heating season between December and February.
The unusually high temperatures could reduce demand for natural gas, which European countries have been rushing to store. Russia’s war against Ukraine has sent fuel prices to record highs, contributing to a cost-of-living crisis across the region.
Scientists said there was a 50%-60% chance that the UK, much of the Mediterranean coast and parts of central Europe would see temperatures well above average. The rest of the continent has a 40%-50% chance of significantly exceeding historical averages.
The Copernicus model brings together data from scientists in the UK, France, Germany, Italy and the US. The European Union program uses billions of measurements from satellites, ships, aircraft and weather stations for its monthly and seasonal forecasts.
Still, the outlook for a mild winter is not universal among meteorologists. US trade forecaster Commodity Weather Group said the winter in Europe is likely to be colder than last year and slightly cooler than the 10-year average as measured by heating degree days.
It’s a way of using temperatures to measure energy demand, with higher numbers reflecting more cold and more fuel burned for heating.
Commodity Weather estimates a value of 2,330 this winter, compared to last year’s 2,085 and the 10-year average of 2,233, meteorologist William Henneberg said. Europe’s winter is likely to be volatile, marked by alternating periods of cold and mild readings.
“We certainly can’t rule out a major cold outbreak at some point in the winter, but the overall pattern may be more due to weak cold fronts passing through frequently,” he said.
The continent is scrambling to find replacements for Russia’s dwindling supplies of natural gas as the Kremlin’s weaponization of energy increases consumer bills and pushes economies to the brink of recession.
Gas prices are more than four times higher than usual for the season. Germany is warning of blackouts and rationing, and the UK has its smallest supply of back-up power in seven years.
A colder winter will reduce Europe’s chances of getting through this heating season “relatively unscathed,” said Katya Yafimava, senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Research.
“A shutdown of power and industry cannot be ruled out,” she said.
Europe’s winter in an energy crisis
As winter sets in in the Northern Hemisphere, meteorologists will be keeping a close eye on the Arctic. Around the pole is a belt of winds called the polar vortex, and if they weaken, the cold air can spill south to the US, Asia or Europe.
It’s hard to predict when a vortex might break up, and Judah Cohen, director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research, has spent years looking for hints.
One potential indicator is the amount of snow that accumulated in Siberia in October, he said. If the snowfall is heavy, somewhere – Europe, North America or Asia – is likely to be blasted by an arctic wave.
Todd Crawford, director of meteorology at commercial forecaster Atmospheric G2, sees no evidence of damage that could encourage the kind of killer cold that crippled Texas’ power grid last year.
“There is currently no strong reason to believe that this winter is likely to be a significantly weakened vortex,” Crawford said.
Another important part will be the high and low pressure over Greenland called the North Atlantic Oscillation. It’s “one of the main signals affecting Europe,” said Bradley Harvey, a meteorologist at trade forecaster Maxar.
Weather watchers should be on the lookout for signs that this is moving into its negative phase, because that means Europe and the eastern US could turn cold. A positive phase could mean a milder winter.
Copernicus also predicted that temperatures across almost the entire continental US are expected to be well above average, certainly above 70% in Texas and other parts of the South. The Tokyo and Beijing regions are also expected to avoid excessive cold.
The chance of below normal rain and snow in parts of central Europe is greater than 40%, potentially affecting river flows and ski slopes.
In the US, northern states are expected to receive more than normal rainfall, with parts of Oregon and Washington recording a 60% chance of wet weather.
Precipitation will be influenced by the ongoing La Niña in the equatorial Pacific. The world is poised for its third consecutive La Niña, something that has only happened twice since the 1950s.
— With the assistance of Elena Mazneva
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