One of the many responsibilities of the U.S. federal government is to play the role of American Oracle. The Congressional Budget Office tells us how laws, like tax cuts and Obamacare, will affect the economy in the next decade. And the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tells us what sort of weather to expect in the next few months.
Oh wow, was it wrong this year.
The official forecast for November 2013 through January 2014 anticipated "above normal" temperatures for the swath of the continental U.S. stretching from Maine to Baja, California. Above normal.
Then reality intervened, and, yes, "above normal" might describe your heating bill, your show-shoveling-calories burned, or the degree to which you are ready to sell your house and move to Mexico. But it certainly doesn't describe the national temperature during a winter that has set records and near-records for frigidness across the Great Plains and Northeast. Compare the swoosh of red (predicted, above) to the block of blue (reality, below).
“Not one of our better forecasts,” admitted Mike Halpert, the Climate Prediction Center’s acting director. Bloomberg Businessweek's Peter Coy, whose piece clued me in to this report, explains that the center grades itself on a spectrum ranging from 100 (totally right) to -50 (completely wrong). "October’s forecast for the three-month period of November through January came in at -22," Coy reported. "The September prediction for October-December was slightly worse, at -23." The December cold wave followed by the massive polar vortex basically smashed the agency's three-month temperature model.