It’s October, which means the start of intense speculation about the upcoming winter. Residents of (and visitors to) many mountain towns are hoping that the recent streak of lackluster winters means we’re due for months of good snow. But what are the weather nerds calling for?
Well, it’s hard to say.
Any long-term forecasting is tricky, and at this point, no area is forecasted to get it big in 2014. “The science behind seasonal weather forecasting is still in its infancy,” saysthe Weather Channel’s Tom Niziol, who is forecasting slightly warmer temperatures in the West and slightly cooler temps in the East, especially later in the season.
Few mainstream forecasts are tailored toward snow-sport enthusiasts, but a lot of talking heads are wondering whether this year’s Super Bowl, which takes place February 2 in New Jersey’s open-air New Meadowlands Stadium, will get slammed by a big winter storm. The Farmer’s Almanac thinks so (although anyone with a degree in common sense should understand how impossible it is to predict a single day event four months out).
Skiers out East might have one cause for excitement this winter. The North Atlantic Oscillation, which follows the spread of high and low pressure across the northern Atlantic, is predicted to be “moderately negative” this winter. In a negative NAO, a big block of low pressure is weakened over Greenland, which pushes the jet stream farther south, taking storm tracks with it. “Winters with moderately negative NAOs are productive because it often places the mean storm track over the New England mountains with enough cold air to make pow,” says AJ LaRosa, who has been predicting East Coast snowstorms for years over at famousinternetskiers.com.
Negative NAO values can send storms as far south as Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Philadelphia, although LaRosa sees the biggest dumps come to the Northeast when the NAO flip-flops from deeply negative to neutral. But, he admits, it’s hard to predict a good winter based off of October NAO values. “It’s just not that reliably predicted outside of maybe 21 days,” he says.
Out West, the snow forecast gurus at Opensnow.com see little cause to expect more than an average winter, with some anecdotal evidence to suggest some special cases. “Without a strong El Niño or La Niña, I don’t recommend that skiers and snowboarders put much faith in any snow forecast for the entire winter,” says founder Joel Gratz, who also handles the forecasting for Colorado mountains.
But what about Lake Tahoe, which has gotten the shaft two winters in a row? Local weather wizard Bryan Allegreto predicts a later start to the season but a healthy “heart of the season” (December to February), which would result in an average total snowfall for the season.
Allegreto is looking to the Pacific for optimism. “The water in the Northeastern Pacific is warmer this fall, so the jet stream may be a bit further south into California this winter. We have had two dry winters in a row, so at least the odds are in our favor.”