Storm Team Winter Outlook
The most asked question we get in the office, starting around State Fair time, is about the weather for the upcoming winter. Honestly, long range weather forecasting has improved significantly over the past several years, but it still has a long ways to go. Some years we get lucky, others we are way off. It’s not like we have a map to look at which can easily point us in the right direction. It really is sort of an atmospheric CSI where we look for clues that might lead us on a path which gives us direction as to what the next several months might be.
When we start putting together the forecast, I like to see what the ‘pros’ have. The Climate Prediction Center, which is the branch of The National Weather Service which deals with longer range forecasting, indicated a winter with equal chances of wet and dry and cold and warm for the Northeast. In other words, given all the tools that are looked at, there is no strong indication either way of what kind of winter we can expect.
For fun, we went out to Destiny USA and asked people what they felt the winter would be like. The overwhelming majority of folks felt that this winter would be a sort of payback to the mild, least snowy winter of 2010-2011. We looked back at the top 10 least snowy winters, and the following winters were a mix of big snow and a continuation of lighter snows. The average of the winters following the top 10 least snowy winters, produced an average snowfall for us. In other words, the whole idea of payback isn’t really supported by the numbers.
We just went through the 4th warmest summer in central New York. This caused Lake Ontario to become quite warm. When we look at the plot of temperature of the lake for this year and last year, we found that this year Lake Ontario is only slightly warmer than it was last year. Despite the warmth of Lake Ontario last year, we didn’t get any productive lake effect snow events. Really, Lake Ontario water temperatures are not a good predictor of snowfall. Yes, the potential is there for some heavier snow, but the coverage and intensity of lake snows is more a function of wind direction, and the ability of arctic winds to move lake effect snow bands into our area. Bottom line, the potential of heavier lake effect snow is there, but it’s pretty much impossible to predict how much lake effect snow we could see.
What about El Nino? For a time, it looked like the water in the equatorial Pacific was going to end up above normal. Over the past couple of months, we’ve seen that surplus in temperature get erased, to the point that we don’t have either an El Nino or La Nina. In meteorological circles, that is sometimes referred to as La Nada. Either way, while what’s going on in the equatorial Pacific will have some impact in our weather this winter, the effect will be overwhelmed by other things that we’re going to talk about now. El Nino or for that matter La Nina shouldn’t factor into our winter weather.
Over the past couple of years, more and more research has been done, which looks at the amount of snow cover in Siberia in October. The connection is that abnormally snowy Octobers over there, can lead to subsequent snowy winters here. By no means is the science settled on this, but this winter will be a good test. The correlation isn’t 100% but it seems pretty good in the initial case studies. Here’s a look at the last 3 years of data::
Out of the last 45 years, this year ranks as the 11th most snowy October in Siberia. You can see last year was 28th and 2 years ago was 14th. We had the least snowy winter in Syracuse since 1949 following last year’s October snowfall departure and we had the 3rd snowiest winter in Syracuse following the Eurasian October snowfall surplus. This year will be a good test since we don’t have a lot of numbers to go with. Incidentally, snowfall across the Northern Hemisphere is running above normal for October.
The final piece we looked at is the record ice minimum at the North Pole this past summer. There are indications that when there is a lower coverage of ice at the pole in summer, it can lead to more atmospheric blocking. In other words, the jet stream gets more “wavy.” When the jet stream is wavy, you can find the atmosphere locking into persistent patterns which could last a week or more. This blocking is tied to things that you may have heard mentioned before: AO, NAO, Greenland block. I won’t get into a discussion on those items individually, but needless to say, it is believed that the lack of North Pole ice in the summer, can lead to a more wavy jet stream in the winter. This leads to favorable set ups for east coast snowstorms, or prolonged periods of cold, and potentially snowy weather for our area.
Bottom line: I don’t see this winter being as mild as last year. We already have a snowpack developing in the Northern Hemisphere, so the integrity of cold surges is able to be maintained better this year, as opposed to last year. There seems to be a propensity for blocking to set up in such a way that our weather has a better chance of becoming colder and stormy. This was shown with Sandy and the nor’easter the week after her landfall I think those events are a precursor to our winter.
It will take awhile for the cold and snow to get set up. I’m not surprised by our tranquil November weather, nor will I be surprised if we have interludes of mild weather during December. This is all part of the evolution of the weather pattern. We have to lay down snow. We have to cool the ocean water at the North Pole. I do believe though that we’ll see some bouts of cold and snow December, and a higher likelihood of cold and snow January and February.
Because of the on and off again start to winter, I kept my snow total just above normal. I expect the seasonal snowfall to end up between 120” and 140” Normal snowfall for Syracuse is around 120”. Temperatures will be near to slightly above normal, but I would expect 1 or 2 periods of brutal arctic weather.
We’ll keep an eye out for potential East Coast snowstorm development and if we can get into a blocked setup, with prolonged northwest flow of arctic air over the Great Lakes, perhaps we’ll see some good lake effect snow storms.
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