How not to predict this upcoming winter....

Posted August 27th, 2014 by Bill Kardas. 17 comments

It's that time of year - where winter outlooks begin popping up on the internet and in the news.  As meteorologists, we think it is far too early to reasonably predict this upcoming winter.  Too much can change throughout the fall that can affect the upcoming winter (lake temperatures, snow cover in Canada, ocean temperatures in the Pacific).  Still, that's not stopping folks from putting in their $0.02.  There are some things that people try to use to make predictions about winter that are flat out wrong.  I wanted to explain a few of them....

Start of fall foliage:  As we observe over the years, the trees don't change color at the exact same time each year.  Sometimes the leaves turn early, sometimes the leaves turn late.  The arrival of fall foliage is used to predict the upcoming winter.  The interpretation is that trees 'know' what the weather will be, and are therefore making proper preparations.  The truth is, the arrival of foliage has more to do with past weather than future weather!  Biologists that study foliage have discovered that stress in trees speeds up the foliage process.  Stress can come from a variety of things like a dry summer or an early frost. 

First snowfall, first frost:  Even the timing of the first frost or first snowfall is not an indication of the upcoming winter!  This is a common mistake of lumping individual weather events with long term patterns.  One bad event doesn't make or break a winter season.  Believe it or not, there's no clear correlation between first snowfall and increased total snow for the season.

Farmer's Almanac:  The Old Farmer's Alamanac is out with their winter guess for 2015.  The forecast calls for wintery, white, and wet conditions for Upstate New York.  That seems a bit vague, but that's how it usually goes with the almanac.  Sometimes they are right, sometimes they aren't.  The almanac has a very loyal following that are quick to point out guessing successes while turning a blind eye to bad guesses.  For example, most folks reading this know the alamanac was correct in last winter's guess for cold weather.  However, many may not realize the almanac blew it for the summer, calling for hot weather (in the northeast).  They also called for an early start to the tropical season in June, along with an east coast hurricane in July.  As vague as that guess was, that also was completely wrong.

I do apologize for picking on the almanac - it is an interesting read.  However, the almanac should be read as fiction - a good story, but not something used to make or change plans.  The farmer's alamanc uses a secret formula to make predictions - using things like sunspots, moon phases, and tidal action.  None of these factors have been proven effective in the field of weather forecasting - much like using the timing of the foliage and first frost/snowfall to predict winter.

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  1. Rocino (N.Marcy):

    Bill,

    Very good interpretation and explanation (I agree totally). What we cannot deny, is that we are STILL in the same “overall” pattern as we were last winter (blocking in the west with dips in the east). We experienced the same exact situation going from winter 2002-2003 through the summer of 2003 and the pattern did not break for the 2003-2004 season. I know that individual large scale events are enough to change a pattern (ie: a land falling hurricane on the east coast, or a large system out of the pacific cutting through the country) and should not be used to interpret weather a couple months from now.

    I am simply saying that the overall pattern has not changed in well over 8 months (except a small break in early July, surprise, surprise).

    Just my $0.02….

    Have fun with the data collection to predict the upcoming winter over the next couple of months (starting to look forward to it).
    :)

    Posted August 27th at 12:23 PM

  2. Gordon (Northwestern):

    It must be pointed out that there is a difference between the “Old Farmers Almanac”, and the “Farmers Almanac “. I usually keep tabs on how both of their predictions pan out. Usually the Farmers Almanac has better long range forecasts, then the Old Farmers Almanac. Last year the Farmers Almanac was spot on with their Winter forecast for the East, while the CPC was out to lunch on their forecast for last winter. The Farmers Almanac also nailed the New England Blizzard on April Fools Day back in 1997, when Boston got 25.4” of snow. Pretty good to be able to pin point the exact day and type of storm over 8 months before it happened. That being said, they do miss a lot also.
    Here at my house I still could not hit 80° yesterday, ad I topped out at 79°, while on Monday I hit 77°. To date I have only had one day in August that made 80°

    Posted August 27th at 12:47 PM

  3. Gordon (Northwestern):

    On the above post “ CPC” stands for Climate Predictions Center. Thought I had better point that out.

    Posted August 27th at 12:49 PM

  4. Bill Kardas (WKTV):

    Rocino & Gordon – you both bring up great points. We are stuck in the same general pattern since last winter – with a greater than usual trough in the east and ridge in the west. This explains why hot summer weather has generally evaded Central New York (and the whole Northeast) while the Pacific Northwest has stayed hot and dry (wildfires).

    If this pattern continues to stay like this through the fall and there’s no major changes in Pacific Ocean temperature, then it would appear another cold winter is ahead of us. We’ll see how things play out over the next few months though.

    Posted August 28th at 5:15 AM

  5. Tom (Richfield Springs):

    Great reads everyone, only time will tell what winter will be like. 57 degrees, overcast with moderate wind.

    Posted August 28th at 5:20 AM

  6. Denys (East Winfield):

    58 degrees, overcast, with a light wind. Personally I like the prediction of the wooly bear caterpillar. Black means snow. :-) My mother in law, (an old farmers wife) swears by it!

    Posted August 28th at 5:39 AM

  7. Bill Kardas (WKTV):

    I highly recommend the CPC website for folks that are interested in studying national and long range weather. Their 6-10 day forecasts have become much more reliable over the years as technology advances in the field.

    The 8-14 day forecast, 1 month, and 3 month composites are interesting to look at too, but aren’t yet reliable.

    Posted August 28th at 6:08 AM

  8. Rob (Whitesboro):

    I just can’t see this pattern holding through winter again. Any pattern that holds on a year or more is extremely rare. Looking at the long range and it looks toasty. We’ve seen this all summer long though…where it looks like a ridge will build down the road and it never does. Looking at the forecasted NAO and the ridge will probably get blocked again as we head into September. But I bet the pattern breaks soon after.

    Posted August 28th at 7:41 AM

  9. Norm (Floyd):

    With all the talk about the weather
    for next winter…
    What’s the forecast for the Labor Day weekend?
    Currently 74° here at noontime.

    Posted August 28th at 12:03 PM

  10. Gordon (Northwestern):

    Nice sunset tonight. Had a high of 67° today.

    Posted August 28th at 8:05 PM

  11. Denys (East Winfield):

    43 degrees, clear, and calm.

    Posted August 29th at 5:08 AM

  12. Norm (Floyd):

    47°here this morning.

    Posted August 29th at 6:20 AM

  13. Neil (South Utica - Genesee St.):

    Low of 50* here.

    Posted August 29th at 7:21 AM

  14. Rob (Whitesboro):

    Low of 47 here. I think we had our best sunset of the season last night.

    Posted August 29th at 9:33 AM

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