The last two winters have been polar opposites of each other, one very snowy and the next very mild with much less snow. Then we had the heat and drought this summer. So what will the winter be like this year?
Forecasting the winter is never easy around here, but this year seems tougher than most. We can just about guarantee, though, that the winter of 2012/2013 will be somewhere in between the last two.
Remember the scene from 2 years ago? A whopping 37 inches of snow fell on South Bend in one of the biggest lake-effect snows ever. It took us a while to dig out. We ended up with over 105 inches of snow for the winter, the 4th snowiest ever.
That was a La Nina year in the Pacific. Last year was too, but it couldn't have been more different. We ended up with 51 inches, less than half of the year before, with temperatures eight degrees warmer. A lot of people liked last winter, but it sure didn't do much for the plow operators or the ski slopes.
Then came the big, bad, drought during June and July. Most winters following bad droughts have been mild with less snow than normal. However, none of those winters look like the current world-wide pattern. So I am not factoring that in much, especially since we've seen three cool months in a row since then.
Everybody has been expecting a weak to moderate El Nino to develop. Well the El Nino has not intensified as expected and is just barely limping along with slightly milder water near the equator, and there is some real question if it even holds for the winter. There are two big factors, though. One in the north Pacific is the P.D.O., or Pacific Decadal Oscillation. We're well into the 30 year "cold" phase, and the water temperatures are near the coldest ever, giving us a flow in that area.
On the other side of the continent, I'm looking at the A.M.O., or Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation. This is in the "warm" phase, with the highest values ever recorded, giving us a flow that goes north. Putting these two together, the rest of the Jet Stream should fill in and bring shots of early season cold southward. So, I am expecting an early start to winter with more snow than normal, especially since Lake Michigan is rather warm after the hot summer.
Four winters from the 1950's, and two from the past few years are similar situations. The average of these winters would give us a little more snow and a little less cold than normal. But because the very weak El Nino should be focused in the central Pacific and the early winter pattern looks colder than normal, I tweaked the average of these years to come up with my forecast for this winter:
I expect temperatures to be very close to normal, an average of about 27 degrees, this would be five degrees colder than last year. And I am going to forecast 76 inches of snow for the entire winter, almost 10 inches more than normal, and two feet more than last year.
This is a tough forecast, and after last winter when everybody missed it, we're all a little gun-shy this time around. I may tweak this forecast a little when I put out my final forecast the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.