"If I knew the weather for sure, I would be making millions on Wall Street".
Tony Cavalier, circa 1990
So you want to know how the weather will pan out this winter. Join the club! While the science of weather forecasting is improving by leaps and bounds every year, as one of my professors at Penn State, Dr. Craig Bohren, predicted presciently back in 1980, "as we improve weather modeling, people are going to want to know what the weather will be for tomorrow's soccer game at 6 pm or travel weather to their daughter's ballet at noon." Yeah, 30 years later, Dr. Bohren was dead on. We as a society are fixated on single point, single time weather forecasts.
With those notions as a backdrop, I wanted to complement Josh's winter blog with some ideas I have for the winter ahead.
Last winter reverted to a “more than” decade long trend of quiet winters with little snow and short but non intense cold spurts. In fact, 2 out of 3 winters during my 25 year tenure at WSAZ have trended quietly.
Of course some snow lovers have short memories forgetting how we braved a trilogy of cold and snowy winters from 2009 through 2011.
Mark Muth of the Huntington Ski Club (HSC) remembers. “We spent several weekends skiing the powdery terrain of Snowshoe and Winterplace those winters. Our western trip to Vail (Colorado) was awesome but we left behind great snow to go to bad when we traveled to Sun Valley (Idaho) in 2010. That year there was no match for our Appalachian snow getaways, even in the Sawtooths and Rockies out west!”
Muth prefers the Black Diamond terrain at Snowshoe (Cupp Run and Shay’s Revenge) for long weekends but the tubing slopes of Winterplace for one day trips with his kids.
Likewise a recent call to the weather center from an Atlanta skier named Jim renewed the Craig Bohren train of thought. Jim wanted to know how the skiing will be this winter because, “last winter when we came north, the weather was mild and the slopes were slushy”.
Imagine if I could say, “Hey Jim best to ski Martin Luther King weekend when it will snow heavily and stay away from the mild and foggy rain of President’s Day.” Fat chance!
So what about this winter?
If you use the hot, dry summer trend then 3 analog years pop into mind. The summers of 1988, 1999 and 2007 like 2012 were all scorchers with drought conditions at least part of the time. All three were followed by modest winters with less than normal snowfall and no big snowstorms. If you play Texas Hold’em by the book, then do not go all in on a snowy winter after a drought riddled, super hot summer.
However the hot summer of 2010 was followed by a snowy and cold winter. I should know! You see my feet froze as I reported live from our Charleston studio on many a windswept and snow-blown night on Virginia Street. I still recall signing off one bitter January night saying to Jess, “I will be here at 5 in the morning with an update from what I am calling the Klondike of the South, Charleston WV”!
If you are a riverboat gambler then you should play to an inside straight and hope your flop draws another 2010. That way a snowy winter of 2013 will follow this searing summer of heat.
Josh mentioned El Nino and its oft times warming effects on the climate in the USA. Again, the classic El Nino is indeed known for temperate winters with a measured amount of snow in Appalachia. Not a good sign for snow lovers this winter.
But then there are the atypical El Ninos like that of 2009. Coming on the heels of a cool summer (only a handful of 90 degree days), the snows fell fast and furiously most of the winter, tallying more 40 inches even in the I-64 zone.
That December alone, Beckley measured nearly 40 inches of snow as just a week before Christmas the WV turnpike was shut down by a blinding snowstorm. That winter Charleston surpassed 60 inches for the season! No wonder Muth loved staying at home to ski!
As for my personal forecast, if you have followed me long enough you know I like to watch the snow pack in Canada during October and November. If it builds quickly, we can see a fast start to winter and plenty of cold and snow. If the snows are slow to affect the Canadian Prairie provinces from the Northwest Territories to Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, then it can be a painfully long winter for snow lovers. And that’s what I will be looking for when I make my final winter forecast around Thanksgiving. So far, so bare is the ground in Oh Canada.
Like I said to open, if I knew for sure…!