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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