El Niño delivering on its promise of a milder winter so far

6-10 day
Temperatures continue to be mild into December this year.
National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center

We’re veering into December and still for much of the state, there’s not much snow on the ground and overall temperatures have been mild.

MPR News chief meteorologist Paul Huttner joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to talk about this warmer pattern.

For the latest weather information, follow MPR News’ Updraft blog.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: We are veering into December. Do you believe that? What the heck? What happened to November? And as we look at December, you think, well, we should have a fair amount of snow on the ground at this time, but we really don't. There's not much on the ground. Joining us right now is Chief Meteorologist Paul Huttner to talk all about this.

I almost feel like I should ask you what animal you want to be named after, but I'm not going to do that.

PAUL HUTTNER: Yeah. I'm a freaking bear. I'm a bear.

CATHY WURZER: Oh. Yeah, that would be kind of cool.

PAUL HUTTNER: That works. You got to survive winters up here, you know.

CATHY WURZER: Let's talk about winters, shall we? Because it's going to be kind of a-- it looks like, it feels already kind of a wimpy winter. I mean, we're in an El Niño year, and so how is it developing so far?

PAUL HUTTNER: Yeah. We're in a Super El Niño year. Weather geeks around the planet watching the tropical Pacific Ocean, Cathy. And I'll explain why this matters for Minnesota. It's warming up quickly down there. What we call the Nino 3.4 region, the Central Pacific along the equator is now 2.18 degrees Celsius warmer than average. That's the highest reach so far in this El Niño period event that we're having.

And that's in the upper range of the forecast for this winter already, and we still have the peak ahead. So when we get to 2 degrees Celsius we kind of call this a super El Niño, it's near the highest end and it affects the jet stream when this warm water bubble in the Pacific interacts with the atmosphere. So tends to push the jet stream, the polar front jet stream as we call it, North into Canada. That means Minnesota's to the South and we stay on the milder side of this.

We get these Pacific air masses like today springtime in November, and November has run 3.4 degrees warmer than average in the Twin Cities. This will be our seventh straight warmer than average month in Minnesota, and the outlooks for December looking like above normal also.

So it looks like El Niño it if it walks and quacks like El Niño. I guess it is. It looks like this may set the tone for winter. We'll still get snow, we'll still get cold. I don't think we're going to see our average of 50 inches of snow in the Twin Cities by the time it's all said and done, but we'll see.

CATHY WURZER: I just hope there's not going to be a lot of ice.

PAUL HUTTNER: Yeah. I hope not too and some of these winters can produce more freezing rain, more rain even in winter, so keep an eye out for that, but we'll have to watch as winter goes forward. There are no big snow events in the one to two-week forecast right now, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: Thank you. I was going to ask you about that. I noted that at least going into this weekend and then like early next week, it's dry and relatively mild.

PAUL HUTTNER: Yeah it is. In fact, we're close to 50 now. In Southwest Minnesota today, sunshine out there feels a little like early March out there. 42 in the Twin Cities will hit 45, tomorrow 40 degrees, 38 on Friday. This weekend there's a chance of some light snow, a couple of the models saying maybe a chance of light snow does not look like a big deal.

Highs and the mid 30s for the Twin Cities. And next week looks like more 30s, maybe even 40 again later in the week. The average next week is 32 degrees for the high in the Twin Cities, Cathy. So anything above that is warmer than average, warmer than normal.

CATHY WURZER: So help me out here, my friend. I thought that we were looking at a potential rain, snow, something or other this weekend. Is that kind of pooped out at this point?

PAUL HUTTNER: Yeah. The European model and the Canadian model are saying, no, no big deal that's going to come through mainly. Dry NOAA's American GFS model is saying, yeah, maybe a little bit of light snow Saturday night and Sunday, mainly Central and Southern Minnesota. But it doesn't look real wound up. So I think if we get anything, it's going to be pretty light, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: OK. I do see that you are mentioning a potential for Northern lights over Minnesota this week, and I'm so excited because I've yet to see Northern lights.



PAUL HUTTNER: And they're amazing. I saw a display a little bit in the spring, but I remember just a massive display probably late 80s, early 90s that was even way overhead and just brilliant in the middle of winter. So here's why they're all excited, right? The Aurora Watch NASA's SOHO, the Solar Observatory has seen these multiple CMEs, these coronal mass ejections, there are explosions on the sun. And these last few have been aimed directly earthward.

So they're saying there's a geomagnetic storm watch that can cause the Northern lights. NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, which I want to work at in my next career, November 30/December 1 is the ETA. So maybe later overnight tonight into tomorrow morning or the following night into the following morning, we could see Northern lights here in Minnesota. So keep an eye out for that if you're out and about. It looks like skies will be mostly clear too.

CATHY WURZER: Gosh. Every time I've tried, I have failed. But you never know, I might get lucky.

PAUL HUTTNER: You never know.

CATHY WURZER: All right. I got to ask you about AI because I was just talking to somebody recently about just the role of artificial intelligence in our business and how scary that can be. Is AI affecting weather forecasting too?

PAUL HUTTNER: It may be. There's an interesting study that just came out in the Journal of Science that's fascinating and a little scary for us meteorologists. So they ran this AI model Google's DeepMind, it's called GraphCast, and it beat conventional weather models in a 10-day forecast, even outperformed the European model with temperature, pressure, and wind speed. I guess it uses four decades of historical data. So this is different than the way they run the weather models.

Now, we feed the current information in and then run it through physics models of what the atmosphere will likely do in the future. This uses historical models, which is really interesting and it takes about a minute to run, Cathy. And so pretty remarkable, much faster than they expected any kind of success with this a couple of years ago. So something to watch. Will I affect weather forecasts dramatically in the next decade or so? It could. But my question is, will it be able to pronounce Lac qui Parle County. That's the real test I think.

CATHY WURZER: That will save us all in terms of those of us on the air and those doing the forecasting. Before you go, we have to talk about Climate Cast, which is coming up here this week. You're going to talk about what?

PAUL HUTTNER: Yeah. And I know this Midwest chapter of the New National Climate Assessment getting a lot of attention. We're going to talk a little about the impacts on Indigenous peoples in the upper Midwest in Minnesota. Mike Dockry from the University of Minnesota specializes in that area of climate. And of course, that's Climate Cast tomorrow and All Things Considered about 3:48 and 5:48 in the afternoon.

CATHY WURZER: OK, very precise. Thank you so much. Have a good day.

PAUL HUTTNER: You too. Thanks, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: That's MPR's Chief Meteorologist Paul Huttner. By the way, you can listen to Paul and Tom Crann during All Things Considered during the weekdays, Monday through Friday right here on MPR News.

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