A snow day literally and figuratively falls from the sky, unbidden, and seems like a thing of wonder. -- Susan Orlean

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Long-Range Forecast for Winter 2012-13

Greetings, Snowhounds! The GSD Staff has been enjoying a lovely summer retreat on the shores of Lake Champlain, but that doesn't mean we aren't hard at working reading maps, contacting sources, and scouring the interwebs for all things related to snow, in particular the snow that we hope will fall in the winter of 2012-13.

As you well know, the winter of 2011-12 was just about as bad as it gets. Officially, 2011-12 was the third least snowy winter on record. In Albany, only 23.3 inches of snow fell. We had slightly higher totals in the Berkshires, but much of our snow came down in those wacky late October snows. If you just tally up December through March, the winter was just flat out depressing.

But let's not dwell on the past--let's focus on the future! The good news is that there are several signs indicating a return to a normal snowfall--and possibly better than normal--for the winter of 2012-13.

Here's what we think we know:

1. THE LAW OF AVERAGES: We can't possibly have two bad years in a row, can we? Statistics would say that is a fair assumption. Using Albany historical data, we looked at six of the least snowy winters on record, and this what discovered:

YEAR      SNOWFALL        Following Year                   CHANGE

1912-13     13.8 inches            55.2 inches                      +41.4
1988-89     19.0 inches            57.9 inches                      +38.9
2011-12     23.3 inches            ??                                     ??
1929-30     24.8 inches            31.0 inches                      +5.2
1918-19     26.7 inches            65.6 inches                      +38.9
1979-80     27.4 inches            44.9 inches                      +17.5
1990-91     28.7 inches            30.7 inches                      +2.0

Based on this very small snapshot of historical data, it looks like we have a 66% chance of a significant bump in the total number of inches for the 2012-13 season.

But any monkey with a calculator could crunch the numbers and give you this data, so let's dig a little deeper, shall we?

2. EL NINO/LA NINA: There's no real reason for GSD followers to remember the difference between the two. All you need to know is that in the Northeast, El Nino = good and La Nina = bad, when we're talking white stuff.

Very generally speaking, the El Nino pattern is associated with warmer temps and drier conditions across the Southern half of the US. El Nino occurs when there are warmer water temps in the Southern Pacific, which lead to wetter conditions in the Southwest and Southeast. The wetter conditions in the South in conjunction with the cold air from Canada typically give us storminess in the Northeast.

This winter we will be transitioning from La Nina to El Nino. Even though it sounds counter-intuitive, we would like to see a weak El Nino. History has shown us that weak El Ninos give us consistent moderate and heavy snowstorms throughout the season. Because we are in transition, there's a good chance we will be in a weak El Nino pattern this winter.

3. ARTIC VOLCANOES: Some meteorologists (long-range forecaster guru Joe Bastardi, for one) believe there is a link between Arctic volcano activity and the severity of winter. In June of 1912, an Arctic volcano in Alaska exploded. The result--the winter of 1914-15--was 95" monster season in Albany (6th snowiest all-time).

Remember the Iceland volcano of April 2010? Well, the payback for all those cancelled vacation flights to Europe could be a winter to remember for 2012-13!

4. SUNSPOTS: As with the arctic volcanoes, there is likely a connection between global warming and sunspot activity. When the sunspots are active, temperatures on Earth tend to rise. When the sunspots are less active, temperatures tend to drop. We're only talking parts of degrees here, but we are in a pattern now with lower sunspot activity. Lower activity = lower temps = better chance for snow. It's really that simple. This isn't a deal-maker or breaker, but it's another sign that we'll bounce back this winter.

That's all the GSD Staff has for you right now. If the winter of 2012-13 were a stock, we would urge you to buy, buy, and buy some more! We might not hit 100 inches, but we should easily see 50" for the winter, guaranteeing us at least two snow days and several delays.

*This post has been edited and updated thanks to a GSD reader.