MIKE: Winter Outlook for 2011-2012

After a cold and very snowy winter last year, I'll let you know if we see more of the same or not this coming winter.


One thing has definitely changed since last winter...the normals.  Every decade our “normals” are actually adjusted for the past 30 years. So since the 1970’s are no longer factored in, our normal amount of snow has dropped by almost 10” and our normal temperature warmed up by a degree. This does not mean it's global warming, as it could be that we are heading back into a 20 or 30 year cycle of more wintry weather.  We'll have to wait and see about that... 
Last winter was the 5th snowiest on record in South Bend. The biggest snow of the season was a whopping 37” of pure lake-effect. That was a freak snow that’s not likely to be repeated…while most areas all “around” South Bend had “only” 15”- 20”, the city, especially the west side, got hammered with twice that amount! The other thing about last winter was that it never really let up…it stayed cold …and that meant the snow stuck around. It was a great year for the ski industry and snowplow operators.
 Here’s what you may or may not want to hear…some of the same factors that affected last winter are expected again this time around.  We have to look to the oceans to try and figure out what the pattern will be this winter.  I’m going to start with a long term pattern in the north Pacific that lasts 20 to 30 years. This is why I think we may be heading into a pattern where winters are colder and snowier on average again.  The pattern is called the PDO, or Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Since 2008 it’s flipped back to the “cold” phase, which means colder weather for us. When we look back, this is the same phase as the winters from the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. On average, we get about 10 MORE inches of snow during the cold phase than the warm one. Many of us remember some of those winters, like the record shattering 172” during the winter of 1977 and 78.
 The main factor, though, is La Nina, and even though last March, Dr. Hansen, a global warming proponent, was forecasting a coming “super” El Nino, that is NOT happening and we are slipping back to another La Nina. This means the water in the central Pacific is in its “cold” phase also, and it will stay that way since it only changes every season or 2. However, if it would become too strong, we would actually warm up later in the winter. So the “strength” of La Nina matters.
 Now we go to the wildcard for the coming winter…the water in the Atlantic Ocean. This is a setup called the NAO, or North Atlantic Oscillation, and it can change from week to week. Last winter, it stayed in the “cold” phase for most of the winter, which is rather unusual. It’s expected to start cold for the early part of winter, and then it may flip around a bit, meaning a warm-up or two possible later.
 So like I’ve been telling you since late summer, I’m expecting a harsh start to winter. After the holidays, though, there are some questions whether winter will let up at times or not. I factored in all the years with similar set-ups and came up with my forecast for this winter. 
Here are the specifics:
Temperatures average: 
25.8 degrees
New normal:  27.3
1.5 degrees COLDER than normal
Total Snow:  85"
New normal:  66.6"
18.4" MORE than normal
20" less than last year
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