KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — It is time once again for our Winter Weather Outlook and this winter looks to be a busy one. The overall global weather pattern is pointing to a stronger-than-average El Niño pattern that would last into early next spring.

So, what is El Niño?

  • It is a warming of the ocean waters off of South America
  • It was first noticed many years ago around Christmas time, so it was named “El Niño” or the “Little Boy” referring to the Christ child.
  • It certainly has a global impact, but locally it often equates to a wetter-than-average and colder-than-average season here in our area

The World Meteorological Organization has said there is a 90% chance of an El Niño continuing through winter into spring and that it is “likely” to peak as a “strong” event.

How does that correlate to our local weather during El Niño winters?

After researching some data provided by the National Weather Service in Morristown, I found out that since 1950, El Niño has only been present in about 35% of our winter seasons (December through February). That said, eight of our 10 coldest winters have occurred during an El Niño pattern. That has made us lean towards a colder-than-average winter.

However, we don’t think it will start out that way. We feel as though we will remain a little above-average temperature-wise for December, but we should also see some better moisture opportunities compared to the slim rain chances we’ve seen through the fall season. It most likely won’t put a big dent in our drought conditions, but any amounts will be welcomed.

As we roll into January, we feel as though we will start to see more opportunities for cold snaps to push into the region. 

The big question will then be, will the colder air masses match up with moisture opportunities? It is certainly possible that the southern branch of the jet stream will be more pronounced and active this winter.

What does this mean for snow?

But, will this mean more snow? Not necessarily. There could be some opportunities for snow, but there may be better chances for some mixed precipitation events, like sleet or freezing rain if we aren’t fully entrenched in the colder air. Regardless, these increased moisture chances should hopefully start to ease our drought conditions a bit.

We’ve been leaning towards a more “back-weighted” winter for several months now and we still feel that way. What that means is that the coldest part of our winter will come later in the winter. We’re thinking that will be the case for February. This should be our best chance at the colder shots and would make sense, our better chances at seeing some snow events.

As we’ve mentioned, an El Niño winter usually means more moisture for our region, but data has shown that only four of our top 10 snowiest winters have occurred in an El Niño setup.

Looking back at our most recent El Niño winters of 2015 and 2016, the above information is certainly valid with only a little more than 2″ and 5″ those two seasons.

With all that said, our official winter forecast will have slightly “above-average” snow totals area-wide for the months of December, January and February. While we think the Valley and Plateau will see slightly higher than average levels, we feel as though portions of Kentucky and especially the Smokies will see higher than average values due to the possibility of colder air being more prevalent in the higher elevation areas.

Holiday Forecasts

We also like to have a little fun and try to prognosticate the bigger winter Holidays. We think Thanksgiving will be dry with more sunshine than clouds, but it looks chilly in the morning, followed by a cooler-than-average afternoon.

If you’re dreaming of a White Christmas this year, you may get a wet one instead as we think some spotty rain showers will be possible with morning lows in the mid 30s and afternoon highs in the upper 40s. It could be a close call though, so there’s still a chance!

As we ring in 2024, it looks crisp with morning readings in the mid-20s and afternoon temperatures in the low-40s with the possibility of a wintry mix.

Regardless of what comes our way this winter, just know that the WATE 6 On Your Side Storm Team will be here for you to get you prepared for and get you through the storms.