Somehow, unconsciously, we all begin to feel the end of summer approaching. Is it some shift in the late afternoon light, as the day gets minutely shorter? Is it the proliferation of notebooks and pencils in drugstore school supply aisles, or the increasingly worried expressions of neighborhood children who realize their days of freedom are numbered? However we might sense it, it is that time in August when leaf-peeping and Halloween costumes seem nearer than beach days and sandals.
And what sort of weather will autumn bring? Nowadays, there’s a little less uncertainty about this question. Thanks to satellites, weather stations and computer modeling, meteorologists can cast longer and longer glances in the weeks and months ahead, to give us an idea of what we’re in for.
Signs are pointing to a mild autumn across much of the U.S. Paul Pastelok, a long-range forecaster for Accuweather, thinks that for much of the Northeast, the first few months of fall will be at or above normal temperatures. There’s an area of high pressure that’s starting to spread eastward, bringing milder weather to eastern Canada and northern New England.
“It’s a pretty good start to the fall season,” Pastelok said in a phone interview. “The only problem I might see is rainfall.”
Ocean temperatures off the East Coast are warmer than ever this year, which is a positive in that it contributes to a milder microclimate, but could also set the region up for some serious storms. Tropical storms are likely still on the horizon through September, October and even November.
Pastelok does think it’s unlikely that the Northeast might see another storm like Superstorm Sandy. That, he says, was a “once in a lifetime” event. (However, some climate scientists think that a warmer Arctic may increase the “waviness” of the Jetstream that flows high in the atmosphere and influences the weather. It was a big loop in the Jetstream that formed the blocking ridge that turned Sandy back towards landfall in New Jersey – so if the Jetstream does become destabilized, there could be more opportunities for Sandy-like turnabouts).
Conditions are just right for some really nice autumn foliage this year, Pastelok says. A wet spring combined with an early summer (even thought it may not have felt that way in some areas, thanks to a cold snap in June) that was a bit drier, with cool nights, are usually the recipe for a good leaf-peeping season. The one thing that could really put a damper on the foliage would be a late-season tropical storm that could knock the leaves off the trees before they get a chance to shine.
In the Midwest, there’s still the threat of an early frost or freeze, which could threaten crops out in the region. Corn prices may inch up a little bit if an early autumn freeze does some damage.
“They may have to start harvesting lot sooner, but since started growing late because of all the rain they had in springtime, yields may not be as high,” Pastelok says.
On the west coast of the U.S., where the summer’s been cooling off recently, Pastelok expects the mercury to rise a little above the norm in the middle of fall. That could be a recipe for wildfires in arid regions.
Wherever you are, think about a trip to the beach or pool soon, because autumn – be it mild, frosty or mixed with wildfire – is coming.
Roxanne has liked science ever since she started watching "Bill Nye the Science Guy" on Saturday mornings over a bowl of sucrotic O's. She especially likes writing about...