2011-2012 Winter weather outlook

With Halloween officially behind us, we turn our thoughts to the weather ahead. It's something most of us have been wondering about. What's the winter going to be like?

Weather statistics are adjusted every thirty years, so this year the 1970's are no longer factored in, and that means our normal amount of snow dropped by almost 10" and our normal temperature warmed up by a degree. Now if you don't like winter weather, I wouldn't get too excited by that.

After seeing the pictures of the huge snowstorm out east this past weekend, it reminded us that winter is coming. 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. It's 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. It looks like another cold one to me. I'm going 1.5 degrees colder than normal, which doesn't sound like a lot, but it is for a 3 month period. Last winter was 3 and a half below and it seemed extremely cold.

It also looks pretty snowy again. I'm forecasting 85" of snow for the entire winter, that's a foot and a half more snow than normal, but 20" less than last year.

Obviously there are other factors that go into what we actually end up with here in Michiana, and I'll keep an eye on things and tweak these numbers, if need be, right before Thanksgiving. But right now it's looking colder and snowier than normal, but not as wintry as last season.

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