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Many signs point to more snow this winter

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Winter made an early start long before many saw the first flakes. The local ski resorts were all open the day after Thanksgiving for the first time in 13 years. That should be an indication of more to come, right?

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Let me start by stating that I love snow. That has not influenced my outlook for this winter, as I have plenty of information from many sources to play a supportive role. However I do want more snow in our region, as many teachers, kids, contractors and local ski resorts do as well. Snow and ice can hurt some businesses, scare people to stay home, but there is another financial up side to an active year as well.

So taking my bias out of the equation, I see many signals that will show this winter to produce more snow than the past two years combined. Rather than bore you with the heavy stuff, I wanted to take a simpler approach. You will see some science, a lot of unique stats, and plenty of graphics to accompany each point in the slide show. My personal expectation will follow below. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Look for this article on my Facebook page to comment

Average Snowfall in Maryland

Our little state has a very large range of snowfall. The snowfall map is the average between 1980-2010. BWI is the reference for Baltimore and averages 20”. But a 40-mile spread has a 30-inch spread. A little Over 12 inches near the warmer Chesapeake Bay while over 3 feet can be expected near the PA line in northern Baltimore, Carroll, and Frederick County.

Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore end up with much less snow, between 10-20 inches,

The mountains and valleys influence Western Maryland. Lower elevations are warmer, but also air can dry out as it flows over the mountaintops. The top spot of McHenry, by Deep Creek Lake is 104 inches. This is home of Wisp, Maryland’s only ski resort. The reason it is here is because of the high elevation over 3000 feet above sea level, and it catches many Lake Effect snow bands from Lake Erie.

Maryland Geography Regions

Geographic boundaries are often where major roads are set up. Look at the red line through Baltimore. That is the ‘Fall Line’ that separates the ‘Coastal Province’ from the ‘Piedmont Plateau’. Basically the low flat land near the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic from the hills leading up to the mountains. This red line is essentially where I-95 is set up as well. That is why forecasts often show I-95 or somewhere close as one separation of rain/ice/and snow.

Smaller boundaries seen on topographical maps. I have seen many times where Rt. 50 or I-70 can be a rough dividing line. Even the beltway itself having heavy snow on one side, but rain on the other.

Northern Baltimore County has elevations close to 1000 Ft above sea level. This little ridge is known as the Hereford Zone. That makes it just cold enough in many events. It runs through most of Carroll County and into northern Harford County.

I’ve also seen the Mason/Dixon line along the PA boarder also show a distinct difference of wintry precipitation.

You may have noticed other local prime spots where the weather is different. It could be a subtle boundary as the culprit.

Support for Snow 2013-2014

Starting with Stats

Big Storm Every 3-4 Years

We have averaged a large winter storm every 3-4 years for the past two decades. If you follow this trend, it has been 4 years since our blockbuster winter. We are Due!

  • 2010 – Feb 9-10 = 19.5”
  • *2010 – Feb 5-6 = 25”
  • *2009 – Dec 18-19 = 18”

*(lowered by NWS after the storm due to measuring discrepancies)

  • 2006 – Feb 11-12 = 13.1”
  • 2003 – Feb 15-18 = 28.2”
  • 2000 – Jan 25 = 14.9”
  • 1996 – Jan 7-9 = 26.6”
  • 1993- Mar 13-14 = 11.9”

Multiple Low Snow Winters:

For starters, only three other times in Baltimore records of snow (since 1880) have we had two winters in a row under 10 inches of snow. What followed was a winter with more than double those prior two. Two of the three couplets produced blockbuster winter snowfalls.

  • 1949/1950- Lowest n record 0.7”
  • 1950/1951 – 6.2”
  • 1951/1952 = 14.1
  • 2000/2001 -8.7”
  • 2001/2002 – 2.3”
  • 2002/2003 = 58.1” (#3 all time)
  • 2007/2008 – 8.5”
  • 2008/2009 – 9.1”
  • 2009/2010 – 62.5” (#2 all time)
  • 2011/2012 – 1.8”
  • 2012/2013 – 8.0”
  • 2013/2014 - ?

A list of top snow winters is located in the slide show as well.

Correlation is not causation, but …

The Atlantic Hurricane Season of 2013 tied 1982 for the lowest hurricane activity on record. The winter following the last time that happened, 1983, produced 35.6” of snow in Baltimore. That is 75% above the average of 20”.

On the Silly Side-

See the chart in the slide show of Winters Following Government Shutdowns. Sadly we have quite a few dating back to 1976 to compare to. With 10 winters in total, seven have above normal snowfall. That means a 70% chance this winter will produce above normal snow.

Farmer’s Almanac

This is part of my analysis, but I thought it was worth noting. Which one are you familiar with. The two shown in the slide show both indicate a cold and snowy Mid Atlantic. However, there is quite a difference with other parts of the country. While one or many of these almanacs will get credit for calling a storm, many they project don’t occur and that never gets attention.

Teleconnections- This is the relationship of patterns with influence around the globe.

Arctic Sea Ice

The ice around the North Pole has recovered quite a bit form the prior year. The satellite measurements had the coverage of sea ice within 1 standard deviation of the long average. That is significant as a refrigeration supply for the lower latitudes. The most important aspect of the chart in the slide show is looking at the late summer and autumn. That has been a supply of cold air that has already provide below normal temperatures to dominate autumn and the surge feeding early December’s winter outbreaks. Parts of northwest Canada and Alaska had air temperatures drop into the -30F to-40F range. Yikes!

Snow Analysis

Often we look at snow pack in October and November to establish the basis for how the rest of the season might go. The slide show includes the snow maps as of December 6th. That includes the winter storm that reached Dallas, but prior to the redevelopment along the eastern US. Notice the snow temperature map as a source of cold air. This is far more extensive than this time in 2012, which will provide amply support for cold air masses and other developing storms.

El Nino

El Nino a person or a natural phenomenon? See the video to decide.

This is the building of warmer water in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. It happens every 3-7 years and appears to be trending that way again. As of the start of winter, it is neutral, but any trend upwards could provide more moisture and storms traveling into the US. There has been an active flow of moisture already from this region. Add southern moisture to northern cold air and you get strong winter storms. How much and where this sets up is where the storm track will be determined to hold.

North Atlantic Oscillation- NAO

Perhaps you have herd of ‘Blocking’ or NAO- Negative. That essentially is due to the large nearly stationary storm near Greenland that can funnel cold air down the eastern coasts of Canada and The US. It also prevents storms from the south going out to the ocean. The result can be a storm track up the east coast. I caution that every storm can wiggle 50-100 miles and make a huge difference of who gets rain and snow. Push too much cold air, Maryland can end up just frigid and dry, but snow could fall in Ocean City and the Carolinas. It is a tight rope to hope and walk.

The forecasts seen here should be taken with a grain of salt. There does not appear to be a strong push in the next two weeks, and we have seen verification contrary to forecasts. Also- this is short term. The net result this winter is what is more important. A few detailed forecasts based on prior activity have lead to strong suggestions for a dominant blocking pattern this winter. I am not getting into more detail for the purpose of this article.

Sun Spot Activity:

We are in the middle of what should be a peak of the 11-year cycle, and it has been rather quiet. There is a belief that more sunspots increase solar output and thus warmer climate patterns on Earth. Less activity on the sun results in colder patterns. This may be more of a long-term trend, but should be noted. A growing number of scientists believe that the sun may be quite for a few decades. Similar to the Maunder Minimum that may be connected to the mini-ice age of the 1600-1700s. If you remember your history classes and the harsh winters during the time of the US Revolution, that may have been part of this pattern and a trend for the next few winters. See the current sun spot activity chart in the slide show. It is well below the last peak and well below the predicted value as well.

NOAA Outlook:

There is not much support here with equal chances of anything happening. There is a lot riding on a developing El Nino that is yet to surface, so the maps don’t show much.

My outlook:

I am basing this on BWI with normal spread between colder and warmer places based on this. I believe we are in store for near to above normal. It is possible that one big storm can drop enough to match a normal season. It is also possible that many storms can produce a lot of snow, but the variation of track within 50-100 miles can make or break the results. So I feel more comfortable giving a range. Baltimore: 25 inches of snow +/- 5 inches. That gives a range of 20”-30”.

Please see more forecasting philosophy and techniques

My Winter Forecasting Manifesto

Expressions from a weatherman

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