Right Opinion

Caution: December Weather May Cause Skidding of the Economy

Joe Bastardi · Nov. 30, 2017

The president’s speech Wednesday was certainly great news on how well the economy is doing. He did mention that this summer’s hurricanes caused a bump. Our preseason forecast warned that the end of the major hurricane hit drought was coming. This is an example of what Weatherbell.com does for its clients. The fact is the weather has its hands in everything, and while there is great improvement across the board, nailing major events using past setups that modeling may not initially see can provide an advantage to those who use that information, and that is where my main mission lies.

We have been methodically showing since early fall why this December is going to be different from the last three.

Decembers this warm mean people do not have to worry about weather-related impediments. On a sad note: If you ski, it has been a curse around the holidays. Not this year. I have a dear friend who lives near the Tappan Zee. I think he may be able to cross-country ski this year during the holidays. (I don’t ski, by the way. I fall.) Here is our analog map with years I identified back in October as being most like this and the blend of the Decembers that followed. All these were very active years in the Atlantic Basin with hurricanes. I cannot get into it here, but since 1995 I have been researching the tropical-winter link, but since 2010 I haven’t found a season in which it could be used. It’s a rare tool.

Notice that the map has years on it — analogs — of the past, which provide a foundation for the future. Combining them with the modeling can lead to a forecast that gives people a heads-up.

But here is the rub. While that is a formidable December, the potential for more extreme cold between Dec. 10 and Jan. 10 has us very concerned. Put it this way: I believe that in the coming weeks it’s at least as cold as depicted in the analog chart, and the threat of a 30-day period as extreme as 1989 is on the table. That kind of cold would have a huge effect on the economy in almost all sectors from the Plains and areas east.

Here’s another forecast: The polar vortex idea will be invoked (again) to hype what is a situation that we have been saying is on the table since early fall.

In the cold winters of ‘13-'14 and '14-'15 there were two loud post-winter talking points being pushed despite our forecast for cold winters based partly on our analog techniques.

1) The economy’s lousy performance was because of the weather.

2) The cold is a result of CO2.

The blocking patterns, which all winter weather nerds like me dream about and look for in our research, came just as our forecasts said. Predictably, whenever it happens, what’s blamed? CO2. I think this winter we are likely to see the return of the polar vortex hype, and CO2 inevitably will be blamed. I will not be getting into brawls over this. I will simply sit back and reference this piece and smile if I am right. It’s the best I can do.

But on a more serious note, planners should understand the weather has a very different pre- through post-holiday period planned this year, and the type of pattern we are seeing — repetitive cold where snow can get laid down with long nights and stronger cold shots — may mean the robust economic growth at least skids a bit because of the weather. Let’s hope it does not go so far as to put the brakes on it, even if it is for a little while.

Get out the winter woolies from the Plains to the East Coast. I think you are going to need them this year. And I think more than the average amount of snow will be on the ground for Christmas from the Mississippi River and points east. For me, I doubt midnight mass with my family in Rhode Island is around 60 degrees like in recent years.

Santa won’t be sweating this year in the East, though he may be in the West.


Joe Bastardi is chief forecaster at WeatherBELL Analytics, a meteorological consulting firm, and contributor to The Patriot Post on environmental issues.

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