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The Suburbanite
  • 2012 winter forecast: 'Mild, yet wild'

  • Our survey of long-range winter forecasts this season shows remarkable similarities. For us, the consensus is best summed up by “mild, yet wild.” About the only meteorological fact all agree upon is Friday is the winter solstice, the first day of winter. It’s the shortest day of the year, but sunlight will increase every day until summer.

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  • Usually, they agree to disagree. Not this time.
    Our survey of long-range winter forecasts this season shows remarkable similarities. For us, the consensus is best summed up by “mild yet wild.” About the only meteorological fact all agree upon is today is the winter solstice, the first day of winter. It’s the shortest day of the year, but sunlight will increase every day until summer.
    Once upon a time, the National Weather Service issued its winter forecast, and that was it. Thanks to the Internet, nearly everybody with a backyard weather station is publishing guesses. There are hundreds in circulation on social sites and the Web. So take your pick.
    Where the amateurs and professionals agree probably is where they are most accurate. Still, weather forecasting is not democratic and, unfortunately, the majority does not rule, usually.
    Here’s a look at the ruminations so far. We soon will find out the truth from Ma Nature.
    THE WARMING THING
    These are unusual times. The planet definitely is getting warmer. Entire weather systems that made our lives somewhat predictable are moving elsewhere.
    Where once our winters were influenced mainly by Arctic patterns from Canada, today’s trend is more of a Southern flavor. It’s apparent  we’re getting more like Kentucky and Tennessee every winter.
    You can dispute this, as global warming has been politicized by guys such as Al Gore. But the record highs are piling up instead of the snow and the Arctic ice shield is contracting.
    SNOW TO GO
    Our region is sandwiched between below- and above-normal snow forecast zones. Much of the Midwest is due for subnormal snowfall. The Northwest can expect “much below” normal. Then comes us, with the normal lake effect snow happening, and then the East with “above” and “much above” expectations.
    Lake effect is where strong Canadian weather systems pass over Lake Erie and collect moisture that they dump on northern Ohio.
    We’re still in a recovery after low precipitation from the summer drought. Guesses are all over the map if we can get enough lake effect to solve that problem.
    This bodes for a snow season similar to last year’s. Lake Erie stayed unfrozen all winter, and there was no shut-off of its snow machine. But lake effect mostly is without violent storms. Only occasionally do heavy snows result. We only had two shovel-busters last winter.
    The huge winter storms that once plagued us will move south as they did last winter. Our primary hope for snow is the Alberta clipper storms out of the Arctic Circle, but last year they most often came through dry, or the storms were blocked by systems coming up from the south.
    Page 2 of 2 - THE C-C-COLD
    As happened last year, the cold will come in short bursts between above-average temperatures. Our coldest weather is from dives of Arctic high pressure out of Canada, often coming on the heels of Alberta clippers. These may have trouble breaking through systems of warm air flowing up from the south and southwest.
    The National Weather Service’s outlook is for “equal chances of temperatures above, normal and below normal.”
    The jet stream, the high-level wind that often determines our weather, varies wildly at times. It can bring brief blasts of cold Arctic air but can be difficult to forecast.
    The consensus is that a return to normal winter temperatures may come sporadically. We will see an unusual amount of sunshine, and that can send our temperatures to 10 to 20 degrees above normal. As long as the winds are from the southwest, we’ll be mild.
    Don’t put your winter coat away. We’ll have our very cold days. But below zero may be a stretch for us this season.
    THE SEVERE STORMS
    Violent winter storms are generated where cold systems crash into warm ones, and vice versa. The release of energy feeds the dreaded high winds that cause widespread damage and power outages.
    Our usual heavy weather will be moving to the south, as last year, at least for the first half of winter. Those folks to the south, the Appalachians and the Atlantic Coast can expect windstorms and tornado outbreaks.
    Then comes one of winter’s most dreaded effects. The stormy lows that missed us will combine with storm systems offshore to produce nor’easters, heavy wind and snowstorms that cripple the major coastal cities north of Virginia. The main effect on us will be disrupted air travel.
    SOURCES: AccuWeather, NOAA Climate Prediction Center, Weather Underground, Intellicast, University of Oxford, various Web blogs