In a year of extremes, it's only natural to wonder what mother nature has up her sleeve for the winter season.
Last year's forecast for a cold, snowy winter was a complete bust as global weather patterns failed to materialize as expected.
So, what kind of confidence can we have in this year's winter outlook?
The top question coming into the weather office in the last few months has been: we had such an incredibly hot and dry summer, does that mean we're going to have a really bad winter?
Seems like a reasonable assumption, especially with the many weather records broken this year.
To answer that question, 14 News had to dig through 100 years of climate data from here in the Tri-State to look for any correlation between extreme drought and severe winters.
To start, we picked out years with rainfall that was at least five inches below the normal of 42.5". For those 23 years, 14 News then looked at the snowfall for the following winter season.
For example, in 1994, our rainfall was 36.75", 5.8 inches below normal. The winter of 1994-95 produced only 1.8" of snow, one of the least snowy seasons in the last hundred years.
Of the 23 years with dry summers, 14 were followed with winters with below-normal snowfall. On average, 6.77" of snow, or about half the normal of 14.2".
But, the other nine winters following a dry summer had heavier than usual snowfall. In the case of 1976, we had only 32" of rain, about 10 less than the average, yet we had to dig out of 26.8" of snow during the winter of 1976-77.
In fact, these nine winters averaged 18.8" of snow, not including the 67.7 inch monster winter in 1917. That winter alone would skew the average to 24.2".
So, what does it all mean? Based on research, 14 News would say that the odds are in our favor for a winter with near-normal to slightly warmer temperatures and less than average snowfall. We could expect 6-7" of snow for the season. Although the drought has eased a bit in the last couple of months, we could expect to see below normal rainfall through the winter as well.
What about El Niño?
Each fall, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, releases its long range winter forecast. Government forecasters say that this year is one of the most challenging outlooks they've produced because El Niño decided not to show up as expected.
In fact, the forecast calls for "equal chances" of above or below normal temps/precip across the Tri-State. As you can see from our research, nine of the winters after a drought had heavy snow and 14 did not.
We're hanging the forecast on the greater number of below normal snowfalls in winters following drought.
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