Stop relying on long-range seasonal forecasts to tell you if it's going to be cold this winter. Those forecasts suck. Of course it's going to be cold this winter—that's why they call it winter.

We've reached that time of the year where we set aside all of those accuracy disclaimers—"oh, we're not very good at forecasting beyond seven days!"—and everyone trips over one another to boldly give the public a season-long forecast months in advance. There is little skill in long-range seasonal forecasts and, at this point, they serve as little more than entertainment value for the public.

In the past two months, we've seen several hoax websites push fake long-range winter weather "forecasts" that collectively got more than two million shares on Facebook because they preyed upon people's blind trust in these seasonal outlooks. For snow lovers, the hoaxes were almost a vindication that this winter will mimic the cold and snow of the previous. For snow haters, it served as a cathartic release to curse winter and declare one's empty intention to move to Phoenix or Miami.

The Farmer's Almanac—which people swear by even though it's just an expensive fortune cookie—declared that this winter would be brutal and snowy in all the populated places. AccuWeather proudly trumpeted the return of the polar vortex, a weather feature that's been around forever but only gained public notice last year because ratings.

NOAA released their long-range forecast this morning which calls for a warmer-than-average west and cooler- and wetter-than-average south, treating everyone else in the country to a wordier version of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Unlike the Farmer's Almanac, meteorologists actually do use science to create these forecasts. Here's an example of something that's recently gotten some play: recent heavy snowfall in Siberia could provide a hint for this winter. According to the Capital Weather Gang, heavy snow in Siberia in the middle of autumn signals the potential for a negative tilt in the Arctic Oscillation during the winter, which can allow very cold air to move south from the Arctic into lower latitudes.

However, the fact that they use science doesn't mean that these forecasts are accurate.

Let's look at how these seasonal forecasts played out last year. Here's what NOAA predicted for temperatures last winter:

And AccuWeather:

And here's what happened:


Aside from their entertainment value, long-range forecasts serve little purpose for the general public. Why does the average person need to know months in advance if it's going to be a brutal winter? Get a head start on that complaining? Typical wintry preparations like sealing windows and hoarding firewood should be done every year regardless. Many people don't understand the forecasts to begin with. Higher chances of warmer-than-normal temperatures doesn't mean that it's going to stay warm, just like higher chances of cooler-than-normal temperatures doesn't mean it's the next ice age.

On top of that, major snowstorms are notoriously fickle—along the East Coast, especially, one town could receive a foot of snow while a town ten miles to the west gets nothing but a cold rain. The people who got the snow will remember it as a brutal winter, but the people who got the rain won't remember the storm at all. You can't predict that months in advance. Hell, it's hard to predict that days or hours in advance sometimes.

Pay attention to five- and seven-day forecasts for a glimpse at what's to come. They're far and beyond more accurate than any long-range forecast you'll read.

[Images: AP, NOAA, AccuWeather, NCDC]

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