Winter in the East will be colder than normal this year, possibly memorably cold, with bouts of storms and sharp cold snaps that could result in an unusually high number of deaths, according to the winter outlook released by the National Weather Service yesterday.
The cold winter is expected to kill far more people than the average winter of the last 30 years, continuing a trend of higher winter mortality that began 10 years ago. More than 450 people, a greater number than are killed by hurricanes, tornados or lightning annually, may be killed by cold this winter, according to Richard Hallgren, director of the National Weather Service.
"It should be a tough winter in the East," said Donald L. Gilman, chief of prediction for the Weather Service. He said there is about a 40 percent chance that the region's temperatures would be far enough below normal to be a memorably cold winter.
"At about two or three degrees below normal, people start talking about how cold a winter it is, and comparing it to some bad ones in the past," he said.
In the last 21 years of forecasting, Gilman said, the Weather Service has been corrrect in about three-fourths of the years it made predictions and correct at about two-thirds of the nation's more than 100 weather stations.
Gilman said the western half of the nation should have a winter drier and warmer than normal, with the possible exception of the upper Pacific Northwest. There the weather should be stormy. The warmer-than-normal area should reach from California to western Kansas, he said.
Areas from Arizona across the Great Plains to the Mississippi Valley should have a dry winter, continuing the trend of the last two winters.
The service predicts that air systems dictating the weather will form three corridors of cold air reaching from the Arctic. Combined with the usual West-to-East flow of air, they will determine the areas of unusual cold and warmth.
One of the Arctic currents will drive south from Hudson's Bay to the Great Lakes and curve into Pennsylvania, Gilman said. That will produce the sharp weather in the Northeast. Where that cold air clashes with warm air returning northward toward the Arctic again, storms are forecast.
The second cold-air current predicted by the Weather Service should be just to the west of the Hudson's Bay current, but should blow farther south, perhaps even threatening the orange groves of Florida at times, Gilman said.
That current also is expected to produce more storms than normal throughout the Gulf Coast area from Texas to Cape Hatteras, N.C.
The third cold current expected to be established for the winter will be over the Pacific Ocean south of Alaska. The edge of that system may bring storms to the Pacific Northwest.
Gilman said he expects the weather systems he described to be in place by about the beginning of January.
The rate of cold-related deaths has been much higher in the last 10 years than in the previous 30, probably because of the colder-than-average winters and the larger number of elderly persons who must suffer through them.
Deaths counted in the statistics are related only to exposure to severe cold and do not include other winter deaths such as fatal heart attacks from shoveling snow or asphyxiation in snowbound cars.
The 10-year average for cold-related deaths from 1949 to 1959 was near 275. In the decade following, it increased to about 350 per winter. This past decade, the average increased to 454 fatalities per year.