Winter 2021-22 - coldest winter ever!
You're supposed to have a catchy title for any article you write, and there is nothing more catchy, when it comes to weather headlines, than record-breaking events and we get plenty of sensationalised headlines either "100F heatwave coming this summer" in spring or "Coldest winter in 100 years!" in the Autumn - I'm just getting a head start.. but don't worry these headlines are coming soon to a newspaper near you - as happens every year but joking aside, what is this winter's expectation?
Commercial forecasts for winter ahead often come out around October. Ideally forecasters would wait until late November to get as much information as possible but this is countered by the need for industries to have an idea on winter months ahead to make plans, certainly for the Energy market this winter is more critical than most due to a lack of Gas storage.
First source of data for much of the energy market will be the ECMWF Seasonal outlook, the latest August update is shown below - with 500mb Geopotential Height anomalies shown on the top, 2m Temperature anomalies shown on the bottom, left-right showing Dec-Jan-Feb
At this stage of the year it's worth pointing out that skill for Winter across Europe is zero but there is a bit of skill in the Atlantic for an over-riding NAO pattern - in fact the level of skill over Europe doesn't change much even as we get closer. One thing that is always noticeable on most seasonal updates is the dominant yellow/orange colours for 2m Temperature - this is because the over-riding global warming signal is very strong and dominates over any anomaly coefficient found in the model forecast - we do get cold months but seasonal models will almost always blur this out ahead of time and not show what the true anomalies of temperature would be even if the set-up/pattern is spot-on.
Out of interest, let's assume the pattern is correct and explore what the temperature anomalies would look like in out-turn by using 10 most similar years to the set-up shown in the forecast - the comparison of model forecast GPH Anomaly (top) and Analog cluster GPH Anomaly (bottom) is shown below which effectively extrapolates/strengths the anomaly correlation:
Let's focus in on December, as this yields quite an interesting result for Europe with cold and calm conditions across UK/CWE this would bring tightness to the energy market - excessive demand, lack of renewable generation at a time when Gas storage is still expected to be below normal.
There has already been some chatter on the winter ahead, such as "La Niña Winter - cold start and warm finish" and "Active Hurricane Season brings an increased risk of winter blockiness" along with the favourite "Low Solar brings a cold winter risk" - into solar min it's often late winter that's blocky but after solar min, which is where we are now, it's often the start that is cold, so this will fuel thoughts that Dec is at risk of being cold - and model runs showing a cool trough will boost those thoughts - here's some additional thoughts:
In the analog years used to compose the Atlantic Ridge - trough into Western Europe - a number of low solar years come up - and the pattern seemed to repeat itself for consecutive Decembers - so it's certainly interesting the the pattern forecast for Dec 2021 closely resembles Dec 2020 out-turn - also of note we had a La Niña last winter and we're dipping back into one by the looks of the latest forecasts for this winter.
Following through last winter - there are other similarities - the forecast models at the time did want to pull out of the trough too but ended up sticking in a cool trough for January 2021 before February 2021 ended up similar to what the current forecast is showing for January 2022.
This tells us that a winter like last year is certainly a plausible scenario, but it's worth noting that of the December analogs - 2020 was one of the warmest of the group as the low pressure was shifted just far enough west to allow more southerly flow into CWE - slightly warmer than normal here with the UK cool, for the analog composite mean the trough is further east and thus brings something cooler more widely as shown in the table below:
Will Dec 2021 end up cool like the analog grouping suggests?
If so, perhaps more importantly for the European Gas market, will it warm-up as per recent ECMWF seasonal outlook into Q1 2022 or will it struggle to pull out of the block and stay cool/calm throughout winter?
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Thank you for reading