Summer in the United States is going to look different in many ways this year given how the coronavirus pandemic has upended life. For many Americans, it's still unclear if sports will be played and whether large gatherings will be held. Vacation plans remain up in the air for millions.
What's not up in the air is that no matter what Americans end up spending time doing this summer, there will be weather to contend with.
AccuWeather's long-range forecast team, led by veteran meteorologist Paul Pastelok, has provided an early look at what weather trends can be expected all around the nation this summer. With the official start to summer a little less than two months away, Pastelok and his team examine where severe weather will remain a threat as summer kicks off, look at places where scorching summer temperatures could build, bringing the possibility for a heat wave, and assess which areas are at risk of drought and wildfire threats as the season progresses. Plus, the forecasters analyze where and when the first tropical weather threat might emerge.
All of this and much more is addressed in the 2020 edition of AccuWeather's annual summer forecast. Take a look at the complete region-by-region breakdown below.
Northeast, mid-Atlantic, Great Lakes, eastern Ohio Valley
Summer, which begins with the solstice on Saturday, June 20, will kick off with frequent showers and thunderstorms across the Northeast, mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes this year, not unlike the pattern that took hold for the early part of spring in those regions when persistent wet weather suppressed temperatures below normal on most days.
The weather pattern will spell frequent unsettled conditions for the regions, but particularly the mid-Atlantic, from late June into July.
However, the season won't be a total washout. Plenty of summer heat is poised to move in as the season progresses.
"Heat will come in spurts in the first half of the summer season," AccuWeather Expert Long-Range Meteorologist Paul Pastelok said. "But, as we get into July, it will start to dry out a little, and I think that's when we'll start to see the heat peak, with temperatures climbing into the 90s."
Most of the scorching heat will take place in July and early August for places like Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York. The latter part of summer will yield a good chance for heat waves, where highs can climb to 90 degrees Fahrenheit or greater for three consecutive days, although Pastelok said record-shattering stretches of heat are unlikely.
Compared with the summer of 2019, which brought grueling heat at times with above-average temperatures for the season, summer 2020 is likely to be a little hotter. Temperatures are expected to average 1-3 degrees higher across the Northeast compared to 2019 and closer to 1-2 degrees higher along the I-95 corridor, Pastelok said.
Once the hot weather arrives, the pattern may be tough to shake. Summer heat could persist well into September, said Pastelok, who's been with AccuWeather for 28 years and in charge of long-range forecasting since 2011.
Southeast, Tennessee Valley, Gulf Coast
This threat will continue as frequent heavy thunderstorms target the area into the middle of the season. And that's only half of the story, particularly for the Southeast, where the threat of hurricanes loom especially large.
Tropical weather could also trigger flooding with the Gulf Coast appearing the most likely area for early development, not unlike last summer when Hurricane Barry, briefly a Category 1 storm, made landfall over part of the Louisiana coast on July 13, 2019.
"The risk this year is the Gulf of Mexico. Everything that we look at -- past years, modeling, you name it -- suggests that the Gulf Coast is going to be active," Pastelok said. Earlier in April, AccuWeather released the 2020 edition of its annual hurricane forecast. This year, forecasters are expecting above-normal tropical activity with seven to nine hurricanes, two to four of which are predicted to strengthen into major hurricanes.
Dan Kottlowski, AccuWeather's top hurricane expert, said the risk area for early development could extend farther, but the Gulf Coast is a primary area of concern earlier in the season.
"The U.S. Gulf Coast, all of Florida and the Georgia to Carolina coast, has the highest chance of being impacted directly by tropical activity this season," Kottlowski said, stressing that areas from the Louisiana coastline eastward to the Florida Panhandle face a higher likelihood than normal to experience an early-season hit.
Central and southern Florida drought conditions will persist as the peninsula is expected to pick up less rainfall than the rest of the Southeast, but a potential tropical impact could alleviate any drought conditions being experienced in the Sunshine State.
Areas farther west will also have to watch tropical forecasts closely though, but the threat for those places may not emerge until later in the season.
"I do think there is a higher-than-normal chance for Texas to have a direct impact from a tropical storm or hurricane this season. However, statistically Texas is more vulnerable during August and September," Kottlowski, who's been focused on tropical weather for 43 years, said.
Even outside of tropical threats, more rain is anticipated for the lower Mississippi Valley and Tennessee Valley, which can lead to further delays for farmers, Pastelok warned. His team looks at how weather could affect a host of industries, including farming and commodities. Minor setbacks are expected for crops such as soybeans and rice, as farmers were already dealt slowdowns amid a wet spring. Flash flooding could also lead to crop damage and losses, and cotton could take a hit if heavy rain persists through May ahead of a wet summer.
Ohio Valley, Midwest, northern Plains
In the Ohio Valley, Midwest and northern Plains, stretches of cooler weather with lower humidity will prevail throughout the summer season.
Minneapolis, Chicago and Kansas City may experience periods of pleasant afternoons followed by cooler summer nights, Pastelok said.
Early on in the summer, severe thunderstorms are forecast to roll through the Ohio Valley, but the severe activity will shift eastward as the season progresses.
"We do think the air masses will become more stable as the season progresses," Pastelok said. "There may be very little severe weather to talk about in the Plains and parts of the Midwest. It'll be farther east into the Ohio Valley and eastern Tennessee Valley as we get into late June and July."
"Places like Detroit, Columbus and Cleveland have a higher risk this summer than places like Des Moines, Iowa, Kansas City and Minneapolis," he added.
Central and southern Plains
Parts of the central and southern Plains states may experience lower humidity and cooler-than-normal weather at times this summer.
"Frequent fronts may get down into the southern U.S., which is kind of unusual as you get into July and August," Pastelok said. With cooler air prevailing to the north and a more humid air mass fueled by the warm waters of the Gulf Coast, parts of southeastern Texas up to Dallas could get more frequent severe weather, he said.
Meanwhile, southwestern Texas, including cities such as El Paso, is poised for prolonged hot weather. One city may feel some heat relief this summer compared to last as tropical moisture and cold fronts trim back temperatures in Laredo. Last summer, the city made headlines as temperatures soared past the triple-digit mark during a 38-day streak of sizzling heat. Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz declared, "Thank goodness, we have air conditioning!" at the height of the heat.
Drought conditions may persist and even intensify, particularly in areas away from the Southeast coast for most of the summer season.
Not surprisingly, hot weather will be a recurring theme during the first part of the season in the Southwest.
In fact, heat more typical of summer had already made an entrance in late April, complicating social distancing measures in Southern California, where many sought relief by heading to the beach.
In Phoenix, the mercury soared into the triple digits in late April as a heat wave set in. Not only was it hot in some of these places, but minimal precipitation made it very dry. By late April, parts of Central California, northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona were experiencing drought conditions.
"We've seen dry weather already in the middle of the spring," Pastelok said. "We think that's going to continue all the way into June."
The region will finally get a break from parched conditions in July and August, as monsoon moisture begins to arrive.
Despite the possibility of a few fire-prone areas in the early part of the season, the moisture should hold back wildfires until August and September for Central and Southern California, Pastelok said. However, the monsoon rainfall overall may average near to slightly below normal.
Northwest to Rockies
Residents in the Northwest and Rockies should brace for a very warm summer and possibly some water restrictions later in the season.
"Places anywhere from Spokane, Washington, southward down into Northern California near Redding will easily see high temperatures in the 90s in the middle of the summer, and it may continue all the way into August," Pastelok said.
The heat, paired with a lack of precipitation, is likely to cause drought conditions to develop quickly across the interior Northwest.
"These areas missed out on a lot of the precipitation during the course of the winter and spring seasons, so water restrictions will probably come into high gear throughout the summer," Pastelok said.
A severe drought could develop in San Francisco and much of northern California by the heart of the season, and drought conditions could expand into the northern Rockies by late summer and possibly early fall, he added.
The persistent dry weather will also increase the likelihood of wildfires, with an early start expected for Northern California and the interior Northwest.