Click the link to read the article on the NOAA website (Nat Cook):
While it’s a little intimidating to put on these oversized shoes, I’m forging ahead in an annual ENSO Blog tradition and giving you all the juicy details about NOAA’s Winter Outlook (1). Regular readers may remember that Mike Halpert of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center (CPC) has been the blog’s winter outlook guru for years, but following Mike’s retirement earlier this year, I’ll be leading you on this year’s journey (Mike, I will try to make you proud!). And maybe my job will be pretty easy this time, given that we are expecting a third consecutive winter with La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific. What will that mean for this winter? Let’s find out!
Winter Outlook enthusiasts are likely aware of how much the occurrence of La Niña (as well as El Niño) can shape the outlook, and for good reason: ENSO, the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (the entire El Niño and La Niña system), exerts a significant influence on winter climate over North America. This influence translates into enhanced temperature and precipitation predictability, as previous events often share some common features. For example, as Mike described in each of the past two years, most of the 20 strongest La Niña events since 1950 brought drier-than-average conditions across much of the southern tier of the U. S., particularly along the Gulf Coast. On the flipside, the Great Lakes/Ohio Valley region, the Pacific Northwest, and the northern tier of the U.S. tended to be wetter than average, although there is less consistency to these La Niña impacts.
La Niña also influences winter temperatures across the United States, although this effect is combined with another significant influence, the long-term temperature trend. La Niña tends to bring warmer-than-average winters across the southern U.S. and below-average temperatures across the northern Plains, with the frequency of the northern cold and southern warm signals at about 70% in the historical record. However, long-term winter warming over most of the U.S. appears to be enhancing the warmer-than-average tendencies in the south while reducing the cooler-than-average tendencies in the northern Great Plains.
Easy as one-two-three?
With a 76% chance of La Niña through this winter, it’s likely that we will have a third La Niña winter in a row, which would be only the third time since 1950 that this has occurred. What might the previous two occurrences tell us about this winter?
Well, the patterns over the U.S. during the previous La Niña three-peats (2) tell a similar story as the maps for all other La Niñas: generally, a more consistent signal for precipitation, with dry conditions in much of the southern U.S., and higher variability in the temperature patterns.
The past two winters fit this description pretty well. The winter of 2020–21 featured a rather unusual temperature pattern (I previously wrote about that befuddling winter), whereas last winter, 2021–22, fit the La Niña temperature mold quite well. However, the precipitation patterns have been more consistent each of these past two winters, which has been bad news for the widespread U.S. drought.
The take-home message is that there is nothing obviously different about La Niña three-peats relative to all other La Niñas that would lead to markedly different expectations. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that this year’s winter outlook has a lot of similarities with the previous two.
Enough with the preamble, let’s get to the outlook! As noted above, CPC favors a similar temperature pattern taking shape this winter as they forecast before the last two winters.
Specifically, the CPC outlook (3) favors above-normal temperatures across the southern and eastern U.S., with the highest probabilities exceeding 50% in the eastern Gulf and South Atlantic states from southeastern Louisiana through most of South Carolina. Above-average temperatures are also favored for Hawaii and northwestern Alaska. The outlook tilts the odds toward colder-than-average across the Pacific Northwest, northern Great Plains, and southeastern Alaska, although none of the below-average probabilities reaches 50%.
The precipitation outlook favors above-normal precipitation across the northern tier of the U.S., with the largest probabilities in northern Idaho, western Montana, and in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley regions. Wetter conditions are favored in Hawaii as well, and this is the only U.S. location where the probability of above-normal precipitation exceeds 50%. In contrast, the entire southern tier of the country and southeastern Alaska have an elevated chance of drier-than-normal conditions, with probabilities exceeding 50% in southern Texas, northern Florida, and southeastern Georgia. Unfortunately, this means that we are not expecting any immediate drought relief in the Southwest and southern Great Plains, and drought may even expand into the Southeast, but hopefully we will see some improvement in the more northern drought-stricken regions.
The usual wildcards
Truth be told, the actual winter conditions never perfectly match the typical La Niña/El Niño impacts or CPC’s Winter Outlook, and frankly, sometimes they can look quite different (I’m still looking at you, winter of 2020–21). One of the main reasons is that there are several other important factors that can influence the average winter conditions, including sudden stratospheric warmings, the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO), the Arctic Oscillation/North Atlantic Oscillation, the North Pacific Oscillation-West Pacific teleconnection, and the Pacific/North American pattern.
That may lead you to ask, “Well, Nat, if we know that these other factors can be important, why aren’t they clearly reflected in CPC’s Winter Outlook?” Good question! The reason is that even though, like ENSO, these other factors can leave a big imprint on average winter conditions, unlike ENSO, they’re very difficult to predict more than a few weeks in advance. From a seasonal forecaster’s perspective, these other non-ENSO factors fall into the dreaded “internal variability” category that Michelle wrote about last year (4). However, because they generally have at least some sub-seasonal predictability, their impacts are often reflected in CPC’s shorter-term outlooks, including their Monthly, Week 3-4, 8 to 14 Day, and 6 to 10 Day outlooks.
Probabilities are not guarantees
The uncertainty stemming from these other factors also highlights why CPC’s Winter Outlook is expressed in terms of probabilities, which means that the forecasts won’t always result in the favored (or expected) outcome. Nevertheless, these outlooks still allow users to take risk and opportunities into account when making climate-sensitive decisions. Benefiting from these outlooks requires users to play the long game. Although some forecasts will “bust,” these outlooks have a track record of demonstrated skill, so users who stick around for the long haul will come out ahead.
- This post discusses the November update to NOAA’s Winter Outlook that was originally released in October. The NOAA Climate Prediction Center’s seasonal outlooks are updated each month all year long, but the November update to the Winter Outlook is the forecast that is used for verification.
- Note that I am identifying “three-year La Niñas” or “La Niña three-peats” as three consecutive winters with La Niña conditions. The 1973–1976 and the current episodes had a few three-month periods from late spring to early fall that returned to ENSO neutral, but La Niña conditions had returned before the following winter.
- A standard reminder about the format of CPC outlooks: the forecasts show the probability of one of three favored categories: below-, near-, and above-normal. The three categories are defined by terciles in the temperature or precipitation distributions. The terciles are the 33.33 and 66.67 percentile positions in the distribution. In other words, they are the boundaries between the lower and middle thirds of the distribution, and between the middle and upper thirds. The below-normal category represents the lower third, and the above-normal category represents the upper third of the distributions.
Also note that forecasts are indicated only when there is a favored category; otherwise, they show EC (“equal chances”). An EC forecast doesn’t mean that near-average temperature or precipitation is expected this winter in those regions, but rather that there’s no tilt in the odds toward any of the three outcomes. In the maps, the probability is shown only for the favored category, but not for the other two categories. Often, the near-normal category remains at 33.33, and the category opposite the favored one is below 33.33 by the same amount that the favored category is above 33.33. When the probability of the favored category becomes very large, such as 70% (which is very rare for a seasonal outlook), this rule for assigning the probabilities for the two non-favored categories becomes different.
- In the interest of accuracy, I note that ENSO does impact some of these other factors, especially the Pacific/North American (PNA) pattern. In fact, ENSO’s main impact on atmospheric circulation beyond the tropics is through a pattern that resembles the PNA, but as Michelle wrote previously, even the PNA has a substantial amount of variability that cannot be explained by ENSO.
In Colorado, over half the crop is in poor-to-very-poor condition. The High Plains states, from North Dakota to Texas, all saw significant degradation in the last week.
Click the link to read the release on The Center for Western Priorities website:
A new report from the Center for Western Priorities finds that bills to protect over 16 million acres of public land in the West are currently languishing in Congress. Protecting these landscapes would bring the nation closer to achieving the goal of conserving 30 percent of public lands and waters by 2030, a scientifically-driven priority backed by the Biden administration.
Despite incredibly strong and enduring support for conservation actions, worsening partisan gridlock has caused progress on conservation to grind to a halt. Over the decade from 2000 to 2010, Congress protected 9.5 million acres of lands through legislation. The next decade, from 2011 to 2021, Congress protected just 3.3 million acres, one-third of what had been protected the previous decade. This has not been for a lack of effort—many bills have been introduced and several have passed the House, some of them multiple times, only to stall out in the Senate.
This report, titled Languishing Lands, details a selection of landscapes that have been proposed for protection, including the greater Grand Canyon region and the Great Bend of the Gila in Arizona, the Ruby Mountains in Nevada, Castner Range in Texas, and the Owyhee Canyonlands in Oregon. The President has a clear opportunity to deliver for the communities that have worked hard to craft broadly-supported proposals, and should not hesitate to exercise the authority that the Antiquities Act gives him for exactly this purpose.
Center for Western Priorities Policy Director Rachael Hamby said the following:
“Westerners overwhelmingly support public lands conservation and are eager to see President Biden take action to protect iconic landscapes across the West. This report shows that broadly-supported and popular conservation proposals are falling victim to gridlock in Congress.
“Communities, tribes, scientists, and lawmakers have worked tirelessly on all of these conservation proposals, and they deserve to see these sites and landscapes protected after years or even decades of persistent effort. President Biden has the power to bypass our dysfunctional Congress and protect millions of acres that are currently at risk of mining, drilling, and other forms of degradation. There’s no time to wait.”
Click the link to read the article on the WyoFile website (Katie Klingsporn):
Federal officials have allocated millions of dollars to improve roads and trails across Wyoming’s national forests — which have been under increasing strain as user numbers grow.
The U.S Forest Service early this fall announced $65 million in investments nationwide to help the agency improve “water quality, roads, trails and fish habitat.” That included nearly $2.2 million in Legacy Road and Trails Remediation Program dollars for projects in the Bighorn, Bridger-Teton, Medicine Bow-Routt and Shoshone national forests for fiscal year 2022. The LRTR Program is expected to be funded annually at similar amounts through FY 2026.
In addition, the Great American Outdoors Act, which authorized nearly $3 billion annually through fiscal year 2025 for an array of public lands projects across the U.S., has funded a flurry of infrastructure projects on forests in Wyoming.
The GAOA funding could help land managers address a backlog of maintenance projects to protect the natural resources and better handle growing crowds.
“The Forest Service has a deferred maintenance backlog of approximately $6 billion,” Donna Nemeth, regional press officer for the USFS Rocky Mountain Region, wrote in an email. “These [GAOA] projects will help address this backlog, bring our infrastructure up to standards, and improve the public experience.”
Without entrance gates or crowd counters, it’s difficult to pin down exact visitation numbers on Wyoming’s 9 million acres of national forest, but managers agree the volume of visitors has been trending upward, putting strain on roads, trailheads, campgrounds and dispersed camping areas.
District rangers and other groups are responding with measures meant to meet demand while protecting the resource — such as educational campaigns and proposals to update camping rules. But threadbare budgets and limited staff overseeing vast landscapes have made the task challenging.
Infusions such as LRTR Program dollars “will address much needed critical road, trail, and stream improvements benefitting (sic) local communities and forest visitors in the Rocky Mountain Region,” Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Frank Beum said in a release. “This critical work also creates jobs in communities around the region, providing an opportunity to improve conditions in National Forests.”
Projects on tap
Wyoming projects funded by the LRTR Program run the gamut from trail bridge improvements to road decommissioning. Most LRTR projects aren’t intended to increase user capacity, Nemeth wrote, but will “generally reduce impacts and increase resiliency related to increased use.” Examples include:
- Cedar Creek and Driveway Trail bridge construction, $450,000, Bighorn National Forest. Reconstruction of two trail bridges above the high-water mark to improve stream functioning and protect the bridges and adjacent trails from erosion.
- Afton Star Trail in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, $62,000. Rerouting the trail to reduce erosion, improve trail resilience and maintain future access
- Whiskey Creek-Little Snake Watershed restoration in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, $375,000. Constructing aquatic passes, decommissioning roads, obliterating unauthorized roads and performing road reroutes and road-trail conversions.
The USFS awarded projects based on factors such as restoration work in priority watersheds, value of the road or trail for public access and increasing aquatic habitat connectivity, Nemeth wrote.
The GAOA, meanwhile, enabled the USFS to invest in recreation infrastructure, public lands access and land conservation.
Wyoming projects include:
- Vault toilet replacements, Bighorn National Forest, $200,000. A multi-year project to entail removing and replacing toilets at various picnic grounds, campgrounds and trailheads forest-wide.
- Lower Middle Fork Trail reroute, Shoshone National Forest, $66,000. Improving a severely eroded section of the popular trail with numerous drainage structures plus rerouting roughly 4 miles of trail.
- Buckboard waterline replacement, Ashley National Forest, $55,000. Replacing distribution lines and valves of the water system serving the Buckboard boat ramp, campground and marina at Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
- Campground rehabilitation, Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, $252,000. Survey, design and construction work to update several outdated campgrounds and parking lots to meet current needs.
The agency, Nemeth wrote, “is looking forward to addressing numerous deferred maintenance projects and delayed repairs through the Great American Outdoors Act.”
Click the link to read the article on the InkStain website (Eric Kuhn and John Fleck):
When the Colorado River Compact Commission adjourned two days previously, on Nov. 20, 1922, two major Colorado River Compact issues had been left unresolved; the amount of water that would be apportioned to the Lower Basin and how the compact would address the need for storage to protect the Imperial Valley from flooding and stabilize river flows. The commission had also identified potential solutions to both.
THE VIEW FROM AFAR
The view from outside the tense, cloistered negotiations being held at Bishop’s Lodge outside Santa Fe remained optimistic. In a widely publicized telegram to President Warren G. Harding, Commission Chairman Herbert Hoover (who was then Harding’s Secretary of Commerce) described the unprecedented nature of the nearly completed task:
“It is worthy of note that this is the first occasion when more than two states have come together under the direct provisions of the constitution established through this method the solution of interstate difficulties outside the courts.”
But in a blunt case of dueling public telegrams, Arizona’s Governor-elect, George W. Hunt, warned that getting seven state buy in remained an uphill slog. Arizona, he wrote, would not sign onto a compact until its rights to water, and infrastructure, to meet the state’s ambitious irrigation plans were clarified.
Even as the negotiators closed in on a deal at Bishop’s Lodge, Hunt’s increasingly strident rhetoric made clear that what came after the negotiations would not be easy.
THE LOWER BASIN’S EXTRA MILLION ACRE FEET CONFIRMED
The commissioners and their advisors had spent a busy Tuesday caucusing and having individual discussions about closing the deal and agreeing to a compact. They made considerable progress.
Hoover opened the 22nd meeting with a discussion of Article III, the apportionment of the use of water between the two basins. Arizona’s Winfield Norviel had tentatively agreed to compromise alternative #4 from the solution list that Nevada’s James Scrugham had suggested. The Lower Basin would be given the rights to increase its uses by an additional one million acre-feet per year making its total apportionment 8.5 million acre-feet.
Hoover then took the commission through seven subparagraphs of Article III. In addition to a new Article III(b) providing the Lower Basin with the additional million acre-feet, the drafting committee had decided to change the language of Article III(a), instead of limiting appropriations, the compact would be apportioning beneficial consumptive use between the two basins. Hoover noted that because they couldn’t agree on a common definition of the word, they had decided to avoid using the term “appropriation” in the compact. Wyoming’s Frank Emerson had raised another concern, he wanted the compact written so that the common person could understand it.
Article III(a) apportions in perpetuity to each basin “for its exclusive use, 7,500,000 acre-feet per annum, which shall include all water necessary for the supply of any rights which may now exist.” Norviel asked why the division is being made between the two basins, not the two divisions. Hoover responded, “the division we confine purely to a political division and the basin to a physical division.” Hoover then read Article III(b), “The lower basin is given the right to increase its beneficial consumptive use by the further quantity of one million acre-feet per annum.” The commissioners suggested several potential wording changes, but decided to agree to it for the moment, then come back to it for further wordsmithing.
WATER FOR MEXICO AND THE EXPECTATION OF “SURPLUS”
Moving on Hoover noted that the provision dealing with water for Mexico had been moved from a separate article (IV) to Article III(c), but the concept was the same. Water for Mexico would first come from the surplus. If the surplus was insufficient, then the deficiency would be equally borne between the two basins and the States of the Upper Division would deliver one half of deficiency at Lee Ferry in addition to that provided in paragraph III(d). Again, individual commissioners made suggestions for wording changes, but the commission agreed to the paragraph in concept.
Article III(d) remained basically unchanged from previous drafts; the States of the Upper Division would not cause the flow of the river at Lee Ferry to be depleted below an aggregate of 75 million acre feet every ten years nor below a flow of four million acre-feet annually. At this point in drafting, the commission assumed that the water accounting year would run from July 1st to June 30th.
They then moved to Article III(e), which prohibited the States of the Upper Division from withholding and the States of the Lower Division from requiring the “delivery of water which cannot reasonably be applied to beneficial, agricultural, and domestic uses.” James Srcugham raised the question of how this applied to mining, milling, and such uses. Hoover suggested they deal with that in the definition of “domestic”
The remaining discussion focused on Articles III(f) and (g), the provisions setting out the details for the future apportionment of the surplus pool. While several commissioners were confused by the initial wording, the concept was that under III(f) a further apportionment could be made of the water unapportioned by paragraphs III (a), (b), and (c) after July 1st, 1968, and when either basin had reached the total beneficial consumptive use set out in III(a) and (b). Paragraph III(g) provided that any two states or one state and the president of the United States could give notice to the other states to trigger the next apportionment round. The next agreement would also be subject to ratification by the legislatures of each state and Congress.
There was general agreement except for the date when the new apportionment round could be triggered. Arizona’s Norviel wanted a shorter period, no more than 30 years. The upper river commissioners wanted a longer period. They would end up compromising on a 40-year period.
Authors note: today given the reality that the flow of the river is much smaller than what was assumed in 1922, these two articles are almost never discussed, but to the commissioners that negotiated the compact in 1922 they were essential to the political compromises necessary for unanimous agreement on the compact, illustrating how important the overestimate of the river’s flow, discussed in our book Science Be Dammed, was to the negotiators’ ability to come to agreement.
With the caveat that more drafting was needed, Commission had reached agreement on Article III, a major accomplishment. The question of how deal with storage remained unsettled. Hoover planned to address this issue in the next meeting, their 23rd, scheduled for that afternoon. In the remaining morning session, Hoover turned to the issue of navigation and a provision proposed by his federal legal advisor, Attomar Hamele.
There was agreement in the room that the Colorado River was no longer navigable, and navigation should not interfere with other beneficial uses. But what if Congress did not agree? In fact, both Hoover and Hamele were predicting that many in Congress would not agree. Hoover’s solution was to suggest that if Congress did not agree, the remaining provisions of the compact would remain, and the pact would not have to be renegotiated. James Scrugham suggests a committee to draft such language.
Hamele suggested a compact provision that protects the rights of the United States. He pointed out that project works built and funded by the United States were the largest source of irrigation water in the basin and many more were being planned and that these projects needed full protection. If he had stopped there, he may have succeeded, but he went on to tell the commissioners that the United States also had a claim to the unnapropriated waters in the basin. To that, all eight commissioners objected. After a difficult discussion, Hoover concluded “an expression reserving the unappropriated waters destroys the entire basis and sense and purpose of this whole commission.” Nevada’s Srugham added that with such a provision none of the seven states would ratify the compact. The discussion ended.
After a long break, Hoover convened the 23rd meeting at 3:45 PM. He immediately turned to the new Article VIII which he hoped would address the Californians need for a storage provision. After the meeting Hoover and McClure had convened with the Californians most had left Santa Fe angry and disgusted. Hoover, recognizing his mistake, convinced J. S. Nickerson, President of the Board of the Imperial Irrigation District to stay and assist McClure.
After a discussion and wordsmithing of the drafting committee’s proposal, Hoover read the proposed article VIII; “Present perfected rights to the beneficial use of the waters of the Colorado River System shall constitute the first charge upon the water hereby apportioned to that division of the basin in which they are situated. All uses which may be perfected subsequent to the effective date of this compact shall be satisfied exclusively from the remaining water apportioned to that division of the basin in which they are situate and shall have no claim upon any part of the water apportioned to the other division of the basin. Whenever works of capacity sufficient to store 5,000,000 acre-feet of water have been constructed on the Colorado River within or for the benefit of the lower basin, any rights which the users of water in the lower basin may have against the users of water in the upper basin shall be satisfied thereafter from the waters so stored.” The drafting committee had also proposed adding the remedies language to the end of paragraph VIII (combining paragraphs VIII and IX).
The commissioners, except New Mexico’s Steven Davis, were OK in concept, but thought the language was very confusing. The Commission would end up discussing numerous drafts before the article was finalized. Steven Davis, although appointed by Hoover to help with the drafting, was now an unwilling participant. He told the others he strenuously objected to the third sentence of the paragraph. Davis, a New Mexico Supreme Court Justice, found the legal logic flawed. If the concept was that perfected rights that existed before the compact could not be impacted by the compact, how could that same compact limit them by requiring that they be satisfied by future stored water? Davis added that he would not, however, vote against the article and interfere with the unanimous approval of the compact. Carpenter preferred the storage trigger be 1,000,000 not 5,000,000 acre-feet but understood the lower river would not go that low.
A 4 MILLION ACRE FOOT FLOW MINIMUM?
Recognizing that Article VIII needed more work, they went onto other matters including a broad discussion of article I, the purposes of the compact. Before they adjourned, Hoover raised the question of the four million acre-feet annual minimum annual flow under Article III(d). Now with Articles III(e) and VIII, was it still needed? Winfield Norviel responded that he was still in favor of it. Hoover then adjourned the meeting until Thursday at 9:30 AM, but requested the drafting committee continue their work in an evening session.