Winter is almost upon us, and you might be wondering how is it going to shape up?
Now, unlike a seven-day forecast, a seasonal forecast doesn’t have the day-in and day-out details. However, it gives us trends based on what cycle we are in, like El Niño or La Niña.
In the meteorology community, we have gathered about 50 years of usable weather data: temperature, winds, radar, cloud cover, pressure, rainfall, snowfall, etc. This helps us formulate trends called teleconnections.
This year, according to the Climate Prediction Center, we will be in a La Niña pattern.
In a La Niña pattern, we see ocean temperatures off the Eastern Pacific trend below average near the Equator. Ocean temperatures around the world help set weather into motion. With this set up, a blocking pattern develops off the Gulf of Alaska. The Polar Jet sets up along the Pacific Northwest region of the United States; winters there tend to be cooler and wetter. This could mean they will see greater than average snowfall there as well as areas in the Northern Plains and Rockies.
For us here in the Four-State and Mid-Atlantic, however, we tend to see the opposite pattern. Winters tend to be slightly warmer than average, and rainfall tends to be at to slightly above average.
As you travel into the Southeastern U.S., a warmer and drier pattern sets up.
Last winter, the winter of 2016-17, we saw snowfall well below average. Like this coming season, last year, we were in a weak La Niña. This could mean we may see another winter season of below average snowfall and the potential to see a little more ice than normal, due to temperatures trending warmer than average.
This is also congruent with winters across the Four-State region. Looking back at 50 years of data here in the Four-State, during La Niña patterns, our snowfall totals heavily trended below average. There are only a few outlying winters that went against the trend.
You may see a few websites try to “forecast” how much snow we will see this winter. However, WDVM Meteorologists Derek Bowen and David Dickson, in agreement, discourage the use and creation of these kind of “forecasts.” From a meteorological standpoint, they are highly inaccurate and have little to no scientific backing.
“It is like trying to predict the outcome of the Super Bowl, when it is only week one of the football season,” said Dickson.
Our last major winter storm occurred in late January 2016. During the 2015-16 winter season, we were influenced by an El Niño pattern.