The fall forecast is in, and it’s going to be a warm one
When will snow return? Will there be wildfire relief? AccuWeather meteorologists answer those questions and more in the 2022 U.S. fall forecast.
It has been a hot summer across the United States with the mercury frequently flirting with the 100-degree mark in countless cities and towns across the country and even some of the longest-duration heat waves in a decade. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for those awaiting the return of hoodie weather, pumpkin-flavored beverages and even snow.
Meteorological autumn officially kicks off on Thursday, Sept. 1, and continues through Wednesday, Nov. 30. This is consistent year after year, making it easier for scientists to compare one season to another. Conversely, astronomical seasons vary slightly every year with fall starting on the equinox and ending on the solstice. This year, the autumnal equinox takes place at 9:03 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Sept. 22, followed by the winter solstice at 4:48 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Dec. 21.
A pair of rowers glide on the Androscoggin River in Brunswick, Maine, where the foliage has changed to autumn colors, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
AccuWeather's team of long-range meteorologists, led by veteran forecaster Paul Pastelok, has been cooking up the long-term forecast for this autumn, blending together data from computer models, analyzing weather patterns around the globe and reflecting on past years. After combining the forecasting ingredients, the team has boiled down the seasonal outlook into one word: warm.
"With pretty good confidence this year," Pastelok said, "I think it's a mild fall setting up overall for the U.S." Warmth will dominate the forecast from Connecticut to California, but AccuWeather forecasters break down what else the season may entail, weighing in on where rainfall will be a frequent visitor and which areas may face tropical threats.
Precipitation extremes this summer have led to hardships across the country. Drought conditions have led to water reservoirs falling to record lows as tinder-dry conditions helped to fuel wildfires across portions of the western and central U.S. On the other hand, deluges have led to flash flood emergencies in other parts of the country, including St. Louis and eastern parts of Kentucky in recent weeks. AccuWeather has you covered on whether fall will tip the scale on the weather pattern in the coming months.
Plus, will snow shovels be needed before the official arrival of winter? And will this autumn be a good year for leaf-peepers hoping to snap incredible photos of vivid fall foliage? Find out the answers to these questions and more with a complete region-by-region breakdown of the U.S. fall forecast:
October to bring major weather shift in Northeast, Midwest
As the calendar flips from August to September, millions of residents across the Midwest and Northeast might not feel much of a change as summerlike warmth extends its stay over the region, but big changes are in the offing with the arrival of October.
Above-normal heat paired with spells of dry weather throughout the summer allowed pockets of drought to develop across New England, the interior mid-Atlantic and the Midwest, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. As a result, small streams have run dry, lawns have started to change from green to brown and cooling costs have gone up.
The warmer-than-normal pattern is expected to continue into the start of autumn across the regions as students go back to school and football season kicks off.
For those looking forward to enjoying autumnal scenery, the widespread warmth could delay the peak of fall foliage in popular viewing areas. But, forecasters say the wait could be worth it this year as vibrant colors are likely to unfold on the hillsides across most of the Northeast, Great Lakes and the mid-Mississippi Valley.
AccuWeather long-range forecasters believe that an increase in moisture will help to promote rain across the Northeast and Midwest heading into autumn, helping to wash away drought concerns, but that the rain will be a double-edged sword.
"The severe weather threat will pick up again," Pastelok said. "We do feel a late-season surge may not be as strong as last year when we had quite a bit of tornadic activity, but I still think there's going to be some and the peak month is October." Cooler air is likely to settle across the region in the wake of the severe storms.
Some of the rain may not come in the form of severe thunderstorms, but rather from a named tropical system.
Last year, multiple tropical systems had significant impacts in the Northeast, including Tropical Storm Henri, which made landfall in Rhode Island, and Hurricane Ida, which caused unprecedented flooding in the New York City area and led to dozens of deaths as a tropical rainstorm. This year is also the 10-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, and another direct strike from a hurricane is not completely out of the question in the Northeast this fall.
"It is something to watch. But we just don't have the confidence yet to say that a major strike is going to hit the Northeast at this point," said Pastelok.
Cars and trucks are stranded on Sept 2, 2021, along the Major Deegan Expressway in Bronx borough of New York, as high water left behind by Hurricane Ida floods the highway. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, File)
As the summer warmth finally fades and the forest transforms from a sea of green to a palette of vibrant colors, folks across the Great Lakes and Northeast will experience the arrival of chilly air.
The first frost of the season could arrive one or two weeks earlier than normal across the Upper Midwest and upstate New York, which translates to late September and early October. However, Pastelok said that the early frost outlook does not pose a serious threat to agriculture during the autumn harvest.
A stormy pattern could then set up over the Northeast in late October into November, including the chance for the first snowflakes of the season across the interior Northeast and higher elevations of the Appalachians.
La Niña to supercharge hurricane season
The weather pattern in the Southeast will be influenced by several factors this autumn, including the unusually warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and a significant climate pattern unfolding thousands of miles away.
For the third year in a row, La Niña will be one of the dominant factors in the global weather pattern. La Niña occurs when the waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean are cooler than normal, which can alter the jet stream and the overall weather pattern across North America.
"We do expect La Niña actually to strengthen a little bit during the latter part of the peak of the tropical season, meaning mid-fall, and it could have some impacts as far as tropical season," Pastelok explained. Typically, La Niña favors tropical activity across the Atlantic basin, which will lead to a higher threat of landfalling tropical systems this autumn.
However, there's more at play than just La Niña. Pastelok and his team are also focused on a large area of high pressure stationed over the central Atlantic known as the Bermuda High, a feature that he called "critical" this tropical season. The Bermuda High has been stronger than normal this summer, forcing tropical disturbances to track farther south and leaving the main development regions of the Atlantic basin dry. The Bermuda High is projected to weaken this autumn, which in turn will open the door for potential tropical systems to curve toward the United States.
AccuWeather is predicting that there will be 16 to 20 named tropical storms during this hurricane season, including six to eight hurricanes and four to six direct U.S. impacts. Last year, there were 21 named storms, seven hurricanes and eight direct U.S. impacts. There have already been three named storms so far this year, including Tropical Storm Alex, Tropical Storm Bonnie and Tropical Storm Colin.
Areas from Florida to the Carolinas are forecast to take the brunt of the activity this hurricane season, but people living near other areas along the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico shouldn't let their guard down. As has been the theme for the past few years, Pastelok said that there could be "one big system" that could make landfall in Texas or Louisiana.
This GOES-16 East GeoColor satellite image taken Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, at 11:40 a.m. EDT., and provided by NOAA, shows Tropical Storm Henri in the Atlantic Ocean. (NOAA via AP)
Additionally, water temperatures have been well above average in the northern Gulf of Mexico, which could potentially help tropical systems in the Gulf gain strength as they approach land. Water temperatures typically need to be 80 to 82 F to fuel a hurricane, and as of Aug. 1, most of the water along the Gulf Coast of the U.S. was at least 86 F. Some beaches in Florida were reporting water temperatures just shy of 90 F, including Clearwater Beach just outside of Tampa.
The abnormally warm water will also be a big factor in the severe weather threat across the eastern half of the U.S. throughout autumn.
Moisture lifting from the Gulf of Mexico over the Southeast and into the mid-Atlantic and Ohio Valley will provide one of the key ingredients for severe weather. Cold fronts clashing with the warm, moisture-rich air could spark severe thunderstorms near Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee; Birmingham, Alabama; Atlanta; Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina; Indianapolis; Cincinnati; and Louisville, Kentucky.
The wet autumn predicted across the Southeast will put a significant dent in the drought conditions across the region with Pastelok saying that there is a "high" chance that most of the drought is erased.
"It won't take much to get out of these drought conditions that are in place across the eastern Carolinas right now and parts of the lower and mid-Atlantic states," he added.
Heat, drought remain locked over Plains
While drought conditions ease across the Northeast, Midwest and Southeast, abnormally dry conditions will remain locked in place across most of the central U.S. throughout autumn. Texas, eastern New Mexico and western Kansas were experiencing exceptional drought conditions at the start of August, the more severe drought classification issued by the U.S. Drought Monitor.
"It's going to take a lot to break this drought," Pastelok explained. "The area is going to be hurting. I think going at least into the first half of fall, the moisture is just not going to be there."
One of the few sources of moisture will derive from the end of the North American monsoon, but most or all of the rain and thunderstorms associated with the monsoon will remain over the Four Corner states, which include Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.
Thunderstorm activity over the central U.S. will increase in October and November delivering much-needed rain, but the bulk of the storms will likely be concentrated over the eastern Plains, especially in eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas.
The extended drought will be accompanied by lingering heat across most of the central U.S., especially during the first part of autumn.
Energy demand will remain elevated through September across Texas with more triple-digit temperatures possible in Dallas, San Antonio and Austin. Highs in the 100s F are not unheard of in these cities during September, and that will not be a difficult benchmark for them to reach amid excessively dry conditions.
Persistent warmth across the nation's heartland will delay the first frost, potentially by weeks, across much of the region.
The combination of extreme drought and long-lasting heat will have severe implications on the nation's agriculture -- some of which may be noticeable to Americans as they hit the grocery stores, even on top of current price hikes amid inflation.
"Most places have just given up as far as the wheat crop goes and the cotton crop is hurting a little bit," Pastelok explained. He added that some crops will fare better than others, including the spring wheat crop across North Dakota and Montana.
One of the biggest ramifications could be felt by cattle ranchers. Widespread heat and drought have already forced some ranchers to let go of their cattle. In 2020, beef exports generated $1.4 billion in revenue for ranchers in Kansas, a state that accounts for nearly 20% of all U.S. beef exports. Kansas is one state that has already reported major cattle losses amid extreme heat with more losses possible before the heat finally breaks.
"We're probably going to see [a] low supply of meat going into the fall and winter seasons based on the type of temperatures and heat and dryness we're seeing," Pastelok explained. "This can lead to higher prices, even after [recent] increases."
He added that extreme heat in the lower Mississippi Valley could lead to lower yields in soybean crops through September.
Drought to fuel another active wildfire season in Western US
Widespread, long-term drought has set the stage for another active wildfire season across most of the Western U.S., but the worst of the fires are expected to develop in different areas compared to 2021.
The North American monsoon has provided some heat and drought relief across the Four Corners this summer, and it could have one last gasp before coming to an end this autumn. However, precipitation on a much larger scale will be needed to put a meaningful dent in the long-term drought that has sent water levels in reservoirs across the region down to record-low territory.
"At the start of September, there could be some occasional breakouts where [the monsoon] extends into Southern California, Nevada and maybe up into parts of Montana," Pastelok explained.
The thunderstorms fueled by the monsoon could end up doing more harm than good, experts say. The brevity of the storms will provide only a small amount of rain to the parched landscape, while lightning from the storms could spark blazes across the region.
Most of the Western U.S. is bone dry amid widespread, extreme drought, so much of the interior West is a tinder box that just needs a single spark to start a fire that can evolve into a raging inferno.
Fire season is already underway with several notable wildfires burning throughout the summer months, including the Oak Fire that started in July near Yosemite National Park in California and the McKinney Fire which has turned deadly in Northern California.
AccuWeather's annual wildfire forecast, issued in May, predicted that fires would burn more acres in 2022 compared to 2021. That forecast is well on its way to being realized with 5.7 million acres burned as of Aug. 1. This is nearly double the number of acres burned by the same point in the year in 2021.
Figures as of Aug. 1, 2022.
Despite the projection of fires scorching more land in 2022 than 2021, this fire season is likely to be much different than the last.
"Last year, we had incredible heat and dryness in the Northwest and western Canada early in the summer season that just kicked off the fire season," Pastelok said. It has been cooler with more moisture across much of the Northwest and western Canada this year, which will help to limit wildfire activity this autumn. Fires could still break out throughout the season, but they are not expected to be nearly as intense as those that erupted last year across the regions.
Instead, the focal point of the worst of the wildfires this year is predicted to be Southern California, especially later in September and into October when the Santa Ana winds kick up and fan the flames of any fires that ignite. Central and Northern California also face an elevated wildfire risk, especially during the opening weeks of autumn.
Seen from unincorporated Mariposa County, Calif., a helicopter drops water on the Washburn Fire burning in Yosemite National Park, Saturday, July 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
The Pacific Northwest will be the first to turn the corner and head into the wet season with storms starting to deliver rain and high-elevation mountain snow as early as October. The arrival of these storms will signal the end of the fire season for most of Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
The arrival of storms in October and November will not only be good news for crews battling wildfires but also for skiers anxious to hit the slopes across the Intermountain West.
"I believe that there is going to be kind of a mix as far as the ski season goes in the Rockies in the West this year," Pastelok said.
For resorts in the Pacific Northwest, the start of the ski season may be slightly later than normal as the first storm systems to track across the region may not unload a plethora of snow, but once there is enough snow to build a solid base at ski resorts, the skiing season should be strong well into the winter.
Farther south in the Sierra, it could be a slow start for resorts that rely on natural snow. "I think they'll get on the normal pace, not the early pace that they saw the last couple of years," Pastelok said.
Snow should arrive in the higher elevations of the Rockies by mid-autumn. However, it will not be smooth sailing after the season's first flakes as warm weather could limit the accumulation at the base of the mountains until November.
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