How Cold Will the Next European Winter Be?

The latest rundown of the seasonal forecast for the upcoming European winter.

How Cold Will the Next European Winter Be?

As the weather gets colder, Europe is entering its season of indoor heating in earnest. Its storage of natural gas, which, after a scramble following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has finally been successfully filled to near capacity, will begin to be drawn down. Just how fast that supply will dwindle will largely depend on how cold the winter is, with implications for prices and the possibility of industry shutdowns and gas rationing.

To the second point, my previous piece, “Will a Cold European Winter Exacerbate the Energy Crisis?” discussed the precise impact of winter temperatures on natural gas demand and the possibility of a worsening European energy crisis. And in “Will a Cold European Winter Exacerbate The Energy Crisis? Pt. 2: What the modeling predicts, as of September 30th,” I took on the first point with an initial look at the forecasts for Europe this winter.

Now it is time to check back in with an update on the near-term seasonal forecasts for the three-month period of November-December-January. The short summary is that the story is largely the same as it was at the end of September: Most indications are that it will be a slightly warmer-than-average early winter.

To build the discussion below, I used the Copernicus Programme, which provides a standardized comparison of eight leading dynamical seasonal forecasting systems as well as a synthesis forecast. See the previous two pieces above for background on dynamical models and seasonal forecasting.

What the modeling predicts for European weather as of October 19

  • Models do not yet paint a consistent picture regarding the state of the North Atlantic Oscillation for this upcoming winter – typically the dominant mode of climate variability affecting European winter weather. Despite a lack of signal for the North Atlantic Oscillation, eight leading seasonal forecasting systems predict that November-December-January will be warmer than the 1993-2016 average over Europe as a whole (Figure 1).

How Cold Will Europe Get Pt3 Fig1
Figure 1 | Predictions of November-December-January average temperatures compared to the 1993-2016 average from eight seasonal forecasting systems (in order from top left to bottom right: CMCC, DWD, ECCC, ECMWF, JMA, Met Office, Meteo France, and NCEP).
  • The best estimate across these models is that November-December-January will be about 0.2°C (0.36°F) to 2°C (3.6°F) above the 1993-2016 average temperatures over the same months.

How Cold Will Europe Get Pt3 Fig2
Figure 2 | Average of the forecasts from the eight seasonal forecasting systems shown in Figure 1. There are approximately 50 ensemble members for each model, meaning that these are average values over about 38,000 simulated winter days.
  • A decent fraction of that warmth is due to background climatological warming, but another portion is due to particularly warm sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic, which air typically traverses before reaching the European continent (they are about 1°C above the 1993-2016 average, Figure 3). These temperatures themselves are enhanced by global warming but also by a positive Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation Index, which describes natural variability in sea surface temperatures across the North Atlantic basin.

How Cold Will Europe Get Pt3 Fig3
Figure 3 | Same as Figure 2 but for sea surface temperatures.
  • If we translate these average temperature forecasts into probabilities, there is about a 65% chance that Europe will see a warmer-than-average November-December-January (Figure 4). There is an approximately 35% chance, though, that this period will be colder-than-average in Europe.

How Cold Will Europe Get Pt3 Fig4
Figure 4 | The probability of the upcoming November-December-January average temperature being warmer than the typical November-December-January from 1993-2016. There are approximately 50 ensemble members for each model, meaning that probabilities are calculated over about 38,000 simulated winter days.
  • It is also more likely than not that the United States and East Asia will experience warmer-than-average November-December-Januaries. There is roughly a 70% chance of it being warmer-than-average in both the continental United States and eastern China.

How Cold Will Europe Get Pt3 Fig5
Figure 5 | Same as Figure 4 but zoomed out to the global level.
  • Warmer-than-average early winters in Europe, North America, and parts of Asia would be good news for the European energy crisis, as it would ease pressure on global demand for natural gas for heating and electricity.