Ready for spring yet? Then, read AccuWeather’s 2022 spring forecast
AccuWeather forecasters break down which areas will face extended winter weather — and which parts of the country will see the season start off with a bang.
After a January which saw multiple winter storms and arctic blasts sweep across the country, and sent temperatures tumbling below freezing in places like Florida, there's light at the end of the tunnel.
Punxsutawney Phil has emerged from his burrow and has declared six more weeks of winter, but that prognostication may not come to fruition across the entire U.S.
Winter weather has reached every corner of the country this season, ranging from waves of early-season storms across the entire West Coast to snow and ice in the Southeast and the first blizzard in years for part of New England. While there is still plenty of winter weather in the pipeline, the light is starting to appear at the end of the tunnel with the arrival of spring right around the corner.
Meteorological spring officially begins on Tuesday, March 1, and astronomical spring begins on Sunday, March 20, but the changing of the seasons may not translate to the abrupt end of cold and snowy weather across the United States.
AccuWeather's team of long-range forecasters, led by Senior Meteorologist Paul Pastelok, has been analyzing weather patterns around the globe to make a forecast for the coming months. In crafting a long-range forecast, Pastelok and his team employ a much different method than what's relied upon to make a short-term forecast for the next three to five days.
AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Paul Pastelok breaking down the spring forecast.
One way that the team of forecasters forged the spring forecast is with the help of analogs. Analogs are years in the past when the weather patterns around the globe were similar to what is currently happening. Studying the past gives forecasters clues to what may unfold in the future.
These meteorological breadcrumbs have indicated that this spring could feature unusually late winter storms, both along the East Coast and West Coast, and even the development of an out-of-season tropical system.
Take a look at the complete region-by-region breakdown of the U.S. spring forecast below:
Winter could linger over Northeast, Midwest
Winter took its time settling in across the Midwest and Northeast with Chicago setting a new record for its latest-ever first measurable snow of the season. However, as the calendar flipped from December to January, so too did the weather pattern. January ushered in waves of snow as far south as Mississippi and the coldest air in three years across the Ohio Valley, including subzero temperatures in Cleveland and Pittsburgh for the first time since January of 2019.
AccuWeather long-range forecasters anticipate that this pattern will break by the start of meteorological spring, but that won't spell the end of cold and snowy conditions just yet.
"There's going to be some type of setback as we head into either late March or April," Pastelok said, meaning that cold air will once again chill the regions, although not to the magnitude of the Arctic intrusions that unfolded in January.
The midspring cooldowns will bring the potential for frost and freezes about one or two weeks later than normal, potentially impacting when farmers and gardeners decide to plant for the season.
Snow falls on flowers shortly after the arrival of a spring storm, in Boulder, Colo., Thursday, April 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
The extended spells of chilly air will not come alone. The return of colder air will open the door for snowstorms to deliver plowable snow over the Northeast.
Pastelok added that there could even be a snowstorm or two during April.
This has already been the snowiest winter in three years for the Washington, D.C., area with 12.3 inches accumulating in January alone. With more prospects of snow, the nation's capital could finish with more snow than the 16.9 inches that accumulated in the winter of 2018-2019 and the 22.2 inches that fell during the winter of 2015-2016.
Snow has not fallen evenly across the Northeast throughout the winter. For instance, Philadelphia measured 12.1 inches in January, and just 50 miles away, Atlantic City, New Jersey, measured 33.2 inches in the same time frame, making it the snowiest January in Atlantic City history.
Areas not labeled are predicted to experience near-normal springtime conditions.
The potential for mid- to late-spring storms will also bring the risk of flooding, especially during the second half of the spring. The highest risk of flooding downpours is expected to be across the Ohio Valley, and the threat will be paired with the potential for some severe weather.
There could also be a higher-than-normal risk of ice jams and flooding, particularly across the Midwest, in February and March following extreme cold in January. "The up-and-down temperature forecast of melting and refreezing may go on in these areas, leading to block-ups and flooding," Pastelok said.
Tropics may spring to life before official start of hurricane season
As storm systems track across the Midwest and Northeast throughout the spring, some areas to the south will miss out on most of the precipitation, raising some short-term drought concerns.
Pockets of moderate drought have developed across the region and could expand in the coming months.
"We believe the drought will linger, more focused on southeast North Carolina, eastern South Carolina to northern Florida," Pastelok said.
There is a wild card late in the spring that could erase the drought concerns in the Southeast: an early tropical system.
The Atlantic hurricane season does not officially start until June 1, but a storm could spin up before the season gets underway.
Pre-season tropical systems have not been out of the ordinary as of late, with a named storm developing in either April or May every year dating back to 2015. Some of these systems have impacted the U.S. mainland, including Tropical Storm Arthur, which brushed the Carolinas in May of 2020, and Tropical Storm Alberto, which made landfall along the Florida Panhandle in May of 2018.
The National Hurricane Center has started to look into moving the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season to earlier in the year following the recent trends, but as of early 2022 the dates have not been altered.
Tropical Storm Alberto is seen approaching the Gulf Coast on May 27, 2018. (NASA WorldView)
The regions where tropical development is most likely are "anywhere from the northeast Gulf, northern Florida Coast to Carolina Coast in May or early June," Pastelok said. Any weather disturbances that move over these waters during the second half of spring could evolve into a named tropical system if the conditions are right.
A tropical storm that spins up close to the shores of the U.S., rather than far out over the Atlantic Ocean, is sometimes called a "home brew" system by meteorologists.
If a tropical system does manage to spin up in April or May, a landfall in the southeastern U.S. cannot be ruled out. A landfalling system could be potentially damaging, but heavy tropical downpours could also alleviate the pockets of drought across the Southeast.
Severe weather season to ignite early
Severe weather season will waste no time kicking into gear this year, although the worst of the storms and tornadoes may once again focus on areas outside of the traditional Tornado Alley.
"The early part of the severe weather season could get going quickly," Pastelok warned, adding that the first severe weather outbreak could unfold as soon as late February.
A severe thunderstorm churns over a field. (DerTobiSturmjagd)
Once the severe weather season kicks off, it is predicted to ramp up quickly and maintain that pace throughout most of the spring.
"April looks like a very active month," Pastelok said, adding that it could be a busy month not just for severe weather but also for tornadoes.
AccuWeather is predicting that 2022 will feature a near to slightly above-normal number of tornadoes across the U.S. with April likely to be the busiest month in terms of tornadoes. More than 200 twisters are projected to touch down in April, most of which will spin up across the central U.S.
The April 2022 prediction is more than double the number of tornadoes that were reported last April, which stands at 73, and above the long-term average of 178 tornadoes in April.
Similar to 2021, the bulk of the severe weather is not expected to focus on the traditional Tornado Alley, which extends from central Texas through Nebraska.
Instead, the highest risk of damaging thunderstorms and tornadoes in March, April and May will focus on the Gulf Coast states, Tennessee Valley, mid-Mississippi Valley and into the Ohio Valley. This includes St. Louis, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Nashville, and Cincinnati.
Areas hit by the rare December derecho and the historic tornado outbreak of Dec. 10-11, 2021, will also face an elevated danger for damaging thunderstorms and tornadoes in March, April and May.
Some storms and tornadoes will still be possible in Tornado Alley, but the severe potential will be limited due to the prolonged drought in the High Plains.
As warm weather builds over the southern and central Plains early in the spring, areas farther north will have to wait for the wintry weather pattern to break.
"We're feeling highly confident that there's going to be a lot more cold air still around the northern Rockies and northern Plains," Pastelok said. "We could even see a few late-season snow events as well."
This is good news for ski resorts across the northern Rockies that hope to remain open later than normal this year, but people planning vacations to places such as Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park late in the spring could encounter bouts of wintry weather.
Drought to maintain grip on western US
The back-and-forth weather pattern along the West Coast this winter will persist into the spring, including the potential for late-season storms across California.
The winter started off strong for the drought-stricken West Coast with waves of storms unloading widespread rain and yards of mountain snow across Washington, Oregon and California. This pattern broke in January, raising concerns once again about whether the drought would worsen before conditions improve.
The stormy pattern is projected to resume later in February and into March, according to Pastelok, delivering much-needed precipitation to the region. However, this will not be a drought-ending scenario that many are hoping for, especially if the storms take a more northerly track. This would direct the storms into the Pacific Northwest and away from Southern California and the interior Southwest.
"There's still an opportunity for a little bit of extra rain through April to contribute more to water reservoirs for the late spring and summer," Pastelok said.
As of Jan. 27, 2022, 21% of the western U.S. was experiencing extreme drought and 4% of the region was under exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. This is a reduction from one year prior when more than 46% of the region was experiencing an extreme drought and 24% was under exceptional drought.
Despite this improvement, most of the region is still experiencing long-term drought hardships.
The worst of the drought conditions through the spring is projected to focus on the Great Basin, Four Corners and into the High Plains. This means that conditions could get worse before they get better, including the water tables that feed into Lake Mead, which in 2021 hit its lowest level since the construction of the Hoover Dam.
Some moisture could make it into the interior Southwest if a few storms take a more southerly track in March and even as late as April, but it will not be enough to alleviate the long-term drought, Pastelok said.
Last year, Phoenix kicked off April with 13 consecutive 90-degree days. While such a feat is hard to duplicate in back-to-back years, the anticipated warmth cannot rule out another extended streak of 90-degree days in the Valley of the Sun.
The early arrival of spring warmth across the interior Southwest will be followed up by a summer preview in May before the official start of meteorological summer on June 1.
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