October 7 2020

The ocean water temperature in the Pacific Ocean is one of the prime elements that plays a big role in our winter storm patterns.  This year we have a La Nina pattern with cooler water to add to the formula. NOAA has issued a La Nina Advisory for the upcoming winter, which has a solid impact on our weather in the Mid Atlantic US.

Below we will take a look at the prior La Nina Winters in Baltimore since 1950.


La Nina 2020 Formation Seen On Satellite 

La Nina Pacific Ocean Water August 2020



The image above was a measurement of cool water dominating the equatorial water in the Pacific Ocean. The popular El Nino is when warm water in the tropical Pacific moves east and shifts the jet stream over North America. This happens every 3 to 7 years. The rest of that water gyre is called the Southern Oscillation. La Nina is when cool water upwelling resumes in the eastern Pacific, and the warmer water is pushed farther west.

The above image was from this past August. The animations below show the development between July 15 and September 30, 2020


Sea Surface Temperature Animation 

This is the view of the Pacific Ocean. On the right side is Central and South America.  On the lower left is Australia.  The middle is the equator.

La Nina Sea Surface Temps

Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies Animation 

Here is the anomaly. This is a better display of the ‘cooler than normal’ water expansion seen in blue.

La Nina Sea Surface Anomalies


Video: La Nina Explained

From NOAA’s National Ocean Service


NOAA La Nina Forecast

The period of winter is defined as December – January – February.

This has a 75% chance of a La Nina this coming season.

Winter Outlook 2021 La Nina ENSO Forecast


La Nina Winter Weather Pattern

The storm track from the Pacific Ocean tends to take a northern route, diving across the central plains, then up the Ohio Valley.

I want to emphasize that this is the NOAA map for a ‘typical La Nina’ storm pattern. It is not static for the entire season.

I put the yellow box over the Mid Atlantic. We are in a region that can be on the edge of the storm track.  There are other factors that can shift this south and colder for us, or west and warmer. It is possible to average a warm pattern, and still get a few strong cold storms.


Winter Outlook 2021 La Nina Weather Pattern US



La Nina Winter History: Baltimore 

These state generated from the National Weather Service are not supportive of a snowy winter.   The caveat is that this is only from 1950 to 2017.  There are quality weather records back to 1882. But the La Nina years historically are more extrapolation, since that pattern was not thoroughly studied by scientists then.

However, within this data there are exceptions and other factors that may not have teamed up together before. I will continue to explore them for my formal outlook.

Important To Note:

La Ninas are not all the same. The intensity ‘weak’, ‘moderate’, and ‘strong’ can yield different results for our region.



Warmer than normal 65% of the La Nina Winters.

Cooler than normal 35% of La Nina Winters.

  • Weak La Nina is even chances.
  • Moderate La Nina is most likely to bring colder temperatures.

Winter Temperatures La Nina Baltimore



This is total precipitation for rain and snow.

Overall there is an even split. But this chart can be confusing. A Moderate La Nina has had 4 of 6 times been below average, but the chart has the largest total. This is because when there is an above average pattern, it can be WAY ABOVE AVERAGE to offset the total comparison.

Winter Precipitation La Nina Baltimore



If you have Faith in the Flakes, this might not be what you want to see. But there is a silver lining. While most years show below normal snow, there have been some big exceptions.

  • 1996- January Blizzard was in a La Nina year. This also accounted for most of the snow that winter.
  • 2000 – Most of snowfall that winter was in a 10 day period between January 20 and 30. This included the ‘surprise’ Nor’easter that brought 14.9″ of snow to BWI on January 25.



Winter Snowfall La Nina Baltimore


Take Away:

If you don’t want snow, La Nina historically has been your friend.

But if you have FITF, all is not lost.  There have been years with big snow storms during a La Nina. Also, there are other elements at play. That is what I explore and try to fit together. This is not scientific law, only one theory. Correlation is NOT causation! It is possible that this winter may have a new combination of global influence to bring us something unprecedented.  Besides, these numbers above are only a sample of 77 years.  There may have been more supportive data in prior years.


Winter Outlook Series

Winter Outlook 2021 From 2 Farmers Almanacs



  • Thanks to my wife Shannon who wanted to bring these hats to life.
  • The Maryland Hoodie is high quality and a new way to show off our love of Snow and State.
  • New items will be added soon.

FITF Store


New Colors Available




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Typical First Frost and Freeze


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Other  Links:

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