Meteorologist Brent Watts
October 4, 2012
Long-range forecasters hint big snow events may return to the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic during the upcoming winter.
It's always entertaining to read the winter outlook from the government and private sectors each year. The key is word here is entertaining. Long-range forecasting is very difficult and relies on a lot of different variables. Just ask the National Hurricane Center. Their hurricane forecast is updated several times during the season.
With that said, let's look at a few of the winter outlooks floating around in the private sector.
THE OLD FARMER'S ALMANAC
The Old Farmer's Almanac (OFA) has been around for hundreds of years. The first one was published in 1792, during George Washington's first term as president. This passage from their website describes why The Almanac became so popular.
An almanac, by definition, records and predicts astronomical events (the rising and setting of the Sun, for instance), tides, weather, and other phenomena with respect to time. So what made The Old Farmer's Almanac different from the others? Since his format wasn't novel, we can only surmise that Thomas's astronomical and weather predictions were more accurate, the advice more useful, and the features more entertaining.
Based on his observations, Thomas used a complex series of natural cycles to devise a secret weather forecasting formula, which brought uncannily accurate results, traditionally said to be 80 percent accurate. (Even today, his formula is kept safely tucked away in a black tin box at the Almanac offices in Dublin, New Hampshire.)
The Old Farmer's Almanac provides a Free preview on it's website of the 2012-13 winter. There it says the east will be colder than normal, but with average snowfall.
“The coldest periods will be from Christmas through early January and in early and mid-February, The snowiest periods will be in mid-December, just before Christmas, and in mid- to late February,” writes the OFO.
If this forecast holds true, we'd be looking at early season and late season snows. Climatologically, southwest Virginia sees most of it's snow in January and early-mid February.
AccuWeather, a non-government agency that has been around for years also released their winter outlook. It is based on a number of scientific features such as the predicted El Nino pattern, or warmer than average water in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, among other things.
Comparing the winter outlook on its website, accuweather.com, forecasters are banking on higher than normal snowfalls across the east coast, even suggesting a "snow dump" this winter.
"The I-95 cities could get hit pretty good. It's a matter of getting the cold to phase in with the huge systems that we are going to see coming out of the southern branch of the jet stream this year," AccuWeather.com Lead Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok said on their website.
It just so happens, southwest Virginia is in that "dump" zone, with AccuWeather forecasting the "cold is expected to phase with the big storms during January and February with the potential for large snowstorms to make headlines and create travel headaches in the major cities."
No mention of early season snows here.
HOW ABOUT ACCURACY?
The reality of it all is that neither of the forecasts will be exactly right. However, readers will find a little nugget of truth in the forecast, that keeps them coming back year after year.
I'd prefer to work week to week, with a little more accuracy.
After all, are you going to go buy extra shovels and sleds because of these winter outlooks? Likely not. You'll wait until snow is actually in the 7 Day forecast like everyone else.
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