The value of a winter forecast in August

The value of a winter forecast in August

There has been some noise recently about winter forecasts from the people who put together one of the farmer’s almanacs. While these are fun and get people excited, there is rarely much precision or consistent skill in winter forecasts this far in advance.

After all, if farmer’s almanacs were as good as they claim, their publishers would be enormously wealthy, with investment banks and energy companies beating down their doors for their data, instead of using it to sell paperback books every year.

Admittedly, there are often hints about an upcoming winter hidden within the late summer atmosphere and ocean circulations, but they do not often have a consistent message. You may have heard of things like El Niño, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and the North Atlantic Oscillation. These are all very real, but the correlations to tangible winter weather are not always as straightforward as we might like.

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One of the largest clues is the phase of El Niño, which is a periodic warming of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean along the equator. Right now, that part of the Pacific Ocean is in its opposite phase, called La Niña, when the water is cooler than average. As a general rule, winters during a La Niña tend to be drier and warmer than normal across the southern U.S., and cooler and wetter in the northern U.S.

But that doesn’t mean the weather pattern is consistent all winter long. There are always smaller fluctuations within the season, so there’s no reason to think it will be a snowless winter, nor a winter with blockbuster snowfalls.

A normal winter in Richmond brings about 8 inches of snow. But as history has shown, normal winters in Richmond are not very common.

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