With all of these warm and dry days, it is hard to believe that winter is less than two months away. But before we know it, we’ll be wearing winter coats and tracking snowstorms. Or, if AccuWeather is right, more rainstorms?
Several private-sector forecasting firms, like AccuWeather, have released winter outlooks and it’s mixed news for those who like snow in the Washington region. They generally favor near normal amounts of about 15 inches in the District.
While AccuWeather, which released its outlook Wednesday, has the District painted in green on its outlook map, it expects there will be enough storminess for the region to still get its share of snow.
The expected development of a weak La Niña pattern in the tropical Pacific Ocean is driving these outlooks, which generally predict winter weather close to normal. This is probably because, historically, weak La Niñas have produced all kinds of weather in Washington, from cold and snowy to the reverse. So taking the middle ground is safest.
It’s hard to generalize about what a weak La Niña winter is normally like in Washington, but if they have any tendency, it is to bring a lot of variability — meaning frequent and short-lived swings from warm to cold and back again, and the cold outbreaks haven’t usually produced a ton of snow.
But if you’re a snow lover — better a weak La Niña than a strong La Niña. As Capital Weather Gang’s winter weather expert Wes Junker pointed out last year, only two strong La Niñas on record have produced above-normal snow in Washington. Weak La Niñas have produced up to 46 inches of snow (hello, winter of 1995-1996) but as little as just two inches.
Given the lack of a strong relationship between La Niña and our winter weather, it stands to reason that most outlooks so far aren’t going out on a limb.
Let’s take a quick look at what different outlets have come out with so far:
AccuWeather (Bob Smerbeck)
Bob Smerbeck, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather, said the company based in State College, Pa., expects temperatures “a little above average” in Washington, by 1 to 2 degrees, with above-normal precipitation and near-average snow.
It forecasts the winter to get off to a warm start with temperatures well above normal in December before plunging below normal in January. Then, Smerbeck said, temperatures should level off in February.
Fast-moving storm systems may bring rounds of light precipitation, he said, but that some larger, juicier systems may form in the Gulf of Mexico and come up the East Coast, especially in the second half of winter. In Washington, the supply of cold air may be lacking, he said, which generally favors more rain from these systems. But he said that there’s risk for more snow if blocking high-pressure areas set up and hold in the cold air.
The Weather Company (Todd Crawford)
“We expect a winter colder than last year, but still slightly above the 30-year normal,” said Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist at the Weather Company, which is owned by IBM. He said to expect the coldest weather, relative to normal, coming in December and the warmest in February.
Crawford is calling for 17 inches of snow in Washington, slightly above the 15.4-inch average. Opposite of AccuWeather, he expects “a fast start to winter,” but that after Jan. 1, “the cold will generally remain more entrenched in the [Pacific] Northwest with increasing bursts of anomalous warmth in the East.”
Commodity Weather Group (Matt Rogers)
This is one of two outlooks calling for a colder-than-normal winter in Washington, but only slightly, said Matt Rogers, chief executive of Commodity Weather Group, based in Bethesda. Rogers, who also contributes to the Capital Weather Gang, expects December to be slightly warmer than normal, but that January and February will have near-normal to below-normal temperatures. His month-to-month evolution of temperatures is the reverse of Crawford’s, but similar to AccuWeather’s.
Rogers said his group doesn’t produce a snowfall forecast, but that they are “leaning drier than normal” while cautioning that it only takes one storm to change things.
WeatherBell Analytics (Joe Bastardi)
Joe Bastardi, chief meteorologist of WeatherBell Analytics, based in New York City, has ideas similar to Crawford’s. He’s calling for a slightly warmer-than-normal winter, 0.5 degrees above average, and near-normal to slightly above normal snowfall. He said areas within 20 miles of Reagan National Airport, the official measurement location for Washington snowfall, should expect 3 to 5 inches more snow than normal. But at the airport, he said, it will be near-normal snowfall. “You know as well as I there has to be an adjustment for whatever is going on at that site,” Bastardi said, referring to past measurement controversies there.
WxRisk (Dave Tolleris)
Dave Tolleris, who runs the WxRisk consulting firm out of Richmond, said he expects near-normal to slightly below normal temperatures, like Rogers, and near-normal snowfall. He cautioned that this is a preliminary outlook and said he would like to see more information on how Siberian snow cover is evolving in October, which in the past has showed some relationship to the severity of winter in the eastern United States.
Capital Weather Gang outlook?
Our own Capital Weather Gang outlook will be out in about another month, when we can also expect the release of the National Weather Service’s and local television station outlooks.