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

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mid-Summer Report 2014--An Early Prediction for the Winter of 2014-15

It's mid-July. Grills are operating on all cylinders. The beach towel is a daily item of clothing. Your open-toe shoe of choice has developed a delightful Eau de Summer aroma. Ah yes, you are living the good life.

But what's that we're hearing on the major news outlets these days? A polar vortex is making its way into the Continental United States? A polar vortex in the summer?

It's not exactly a polar vortex (read here), but just the phrase "polar vortex" makes us think of winter, and what better way to bring winter back into our lives than with the official GSD mid-summer long-range forecast for the winter of 2014-15!

Let's get right to it: All the long-range model readers are talking about El Nino. Will it be a Super El Nino or mild El Nino? Where will it be wet and mild or cold and snowy? These are the seemingly impenetrable questions that snowhounds want answers to right away, so we'll do our best do make sense of the information that has been presented to us.

A recap about El Ninos. El Nino conditions--in general terms--refer to warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in parts of the Pacific Ocean. Strong El Ninos typically lead to wet and milder winters in the Northeast. Moderate and weak El Ninos typically indicate snowier winters for the East coast. These trends don't always work out so simply and easily--much depends on the positioning of the warm surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. Warm temps that are more central often lead to snowier winters for us. Warm temps that are more to the east have led to winter fizzles for New England.

There's a lot of info out there right now suggesting that a super or strong El Nino is less likely for the winter of 2014-15 (which is good for snow lovers in Northeast). We are seeing signs of a centrally based El Nino along with warm surface temps in the Gulf of Alaska as well as cooler surface temps to the region north of Hawaii. The last time we had this setup--central El Nino, warm Alaskan waters, cool water north of Hawaii--was in the winter of 2007-08 when Albany received 45.4 inches of snow, which would be a disappointing winter. (By comparison, last year Albany received 73.5 inches of snow.) But back in 2002-03, which was the previous time that we had this same setup, we received a mind-boggling 105.4 inches of snow in Albany. Now that's a winter your great grand-pappy would appreciate.

So what does recent El Nino history and all of this info about pockets of warm and cool surface temperatures really mean for the Berkshires? Right now, not a hill of beans.

But the possibility seems to be lurking out there on the horizon that we'll have an average to above average winter (in terms of snow fall). If we split the difference between 2007-08 and 2002-03, it looks like we'll end up with just about the same amount of snow that we had last year: 70+ inches in Albany and 60+ inches at GSD Headquarters. We do recall that the GSD Staff didn't hear too many complaints about a lackluster winter.

So, mark it down: we are cautiously optimistic that for 2014-15 we will have a slightly above average winter with 60+ inches of snow. Enjoy the rest of the summer but keep it in your snow-loving hearts that the first snow storm is just a few months away.