Winter officially starts tomorrow, but we've already had six inches of snow and an ice storm. Does that mean it's going to be an unusually cold and snowy winter?

The winter storm that closed schools and offices a couple weeks ago was the biggest in Washington in nearly three years. And it gave us the most snow we've seen that early in the season in 15 years.

That has some kids wondering just how many snow days this winter might bring.

The last time it snowed this much so early in the season was on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1987, when almost a foot of snow fell. Washington ended up with 25 inches of snow that winter, well above its average of 17.

While it's hard to say exactly how much snow will fall this winter, we already have twice as much snow as we got last winter, and many weather forecasters say there's more to come. That's because of how storms have been moving across the country.

Washington gets most of its snow from storms called "Nor'easters," which develop to our south and then travel northeast along the East Coast.

There have been several Nor'easters this fall, including the storms that brought us snow and ice (the others have just been rain). Winter and fall storms often follow similar paths, so more might be on the way.

The weather pattern caused by El Nin~o, the warming of the ocean waters off the coast of South America, also could affect how much snow we get. El Nin~o usually means more storms for our area, but sometimes warmer temperatures, which could mean more rain than snow.

But when it comes to snow in the Washington area, sometimes luck is the most important thing. A small change in the path of a storm can be the difference between heavy snow and a day off from school, or plain old rain.

After two winters without much snow, it's about time we get lucky.

-- Dan Stillman