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Nature’s Clues to NYC’s Winter Forecast: Still Snowy, Not as Cold

First of all winter forecasts are important for planning purposes and they can also have their entertainment value (Yes, Snow! or Say it isn't So!)  While it is true, the winter projections for the Northeast for the past two years have been busts... no one is giving up.  One reason scientists are pointing to for bad predictions is the rapid melting of Arctic Ice.  It seems the typically reliable ocean pattern and seasonal trend forecasting are being affected by the melting.  But no one is throwing in the towel…  Afterall, in science, the real secret is not to have all the answers but to ask better questions (thank you: UPenn Prof Stan Lakowski!)

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Based on the following:  Winter Forecasts available, Recent Climate Trends, Siberian Snow Coverage, Ocean Patterns, New Forecasting Research, and a few secret ingredients here’s what I think the forecast in NYC will be like:

  • Temperatures 1-3 degrees above average (NYC’s Avg.Winter Temp 40, LAST YEAR: 32 Degrees)
  • Snowfall 10-15” above average  NYC’s Average Snowfall is 29” LAST YEAR: a brutal 61”)
  • Most of the snow will come after Jan. 1st
  • Early Feb. will be the coldest and snowiest time of winter
  • At least one 10” storm should be expected
  • There will be surges of mild air at times, not frigid like last winter!
  • Flooding could be a late winter concern

One of the best things I came across in my winter forecast research was the latest predictions by British Scientist Piers Corbyn (who is both astrophysicist and a meteorologist.)  Corbyn is the only prognosticator who was able to get the forecast right last winter.  Whether it’s luck or science on his side, the fact is that the last two winters Corbyn’s been the most on target of any published forecasts. He uses solar observations and historical weather patterns for his predictions.  Corbyn is calling for a cold, stormy winter for the NYC area with January being very cold.  He gets as specific as to say Jan 11-14th will have massive snow in the Northeast. 


Now, a disclaimer of sorts for the entire Winter Forecast Discussion:   I think the most frequently asked question is also the biggest clue for forecasting right now:  Because NYC had snow in October, does that mean the winter will be worse?  Well, October snow storms rarely happen so we don’t know what clues they could to our winters....Will an early snow shed light on the winter?  We are seeing so many unusual events, its hard to pinpoint the next extreme!   Just look at this long, but incomplete list of wild weather in less than two years here in New York City:

  • Warmest spring (March-May 2010) on record
  • Hottest summer (June-August 2010) on record
  • 1st deadly tornado in "Five-Boroughs" since 1895 (Sep. 16, 2010)
  • Snowiest January ever recorded (2011)
  • 3rd Snowiest Winter Ever (60.9” 2010-2011)
  • Wettest March on record (10.69" 2011)
  • Wettest Summer Ever in Central Park (2011)
  • Record Summer Heat, hottest day EVER in Newark 108 (July 28, 2011)
  • Most Snow to ever Fall in NYC in October (Oct. 29th )
  • Record Warmth in November (5 days over 60 Degrees, Nov. 2011)
  • 2011 is the 2nd wettest year ever!

The bottom line is that we can ask the right questions about the forecast but we basically have to be ready for just about anything.  Below is the bonus section… it’s way more information on the clues that tell us more about Winter Forecast possibilities… I’ve included most all the research and links I’ve looked at to come up with the conclusions about our Winter Forecasts.

Winter Forecasts Available to check out… some are based on teams of Meteorologists, others are about as good as a dart board!

ACCUWEATHER: Stormy and Cold    Snowfall Prediction: 33”  


NOAA Northeast and Mid-Atlantic: equal chances for above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures and precipitation. Winter weather for these regions is often driven not by La Niña but by the Arctic Oscillation. If enough cold air and moisture are in place, areas north of the Ohio Valley and into the Northeast could see above-average snow;  "We're predicting snowfall to be slightly above normal this winter in New York City with a total around 33 inches," said Paul Pastelok, AccuWeather.com expert long-range meteorologist and leader of the Long-Range Forecasting Team. "Most of that snow will probably fall from December into January."


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Farmer’s Almanac

Recent Climate Trends tell us a lot about what the current Global patterns are producing season to season. 

Keep in mind, NYC’s temperature history is only about 134 years worth of record keeping and precipitation records are less than that… it’s a relatively small amount of reliable data considering the hundreds of years that people have been in NYC area.  But what we have to work with does show that the winter weather we are living through is RECORD BREAKING!  Last winter went down in history as one of New York City's worst --- with two blizzards and 61” of snow making it the third snowiest on record for the Big Apple. 

 Top 10 Snowiest Winters in NYC History

  1. 1995 to 1996 - 75.6"
  2. 1947 to 1948 - 63.2"
  3. 2010 to 2011 - 60.8”
  4. 1922 to 1923 - 60.4"
  5. 1874 to 1875 - 58.8"
  6. 1872 to 1873 - 58.5"
  7. 1898 to 1899 - 55.9"
  8. 1960 to 1961 - 54.7"
  9. 1993 to 1994 - 53.4"
  10. 1906 to 1907 - 53.2"

Even more impressive is to look at New York City's Top 10 heaviest snowstorms.  Three of the top 8 NYC snowstorms of record have happened in the last two years.   Five of the top 10 snowstorms have happened since 2003:

  1. 26.9" Feb. 11-12, 2006
  2. 26.4" Dec. 26-27, 1947
  3. 21" Mar. 12-14, 1888
  4. 20.9" Feb. 25-26, 2010
  5. 20.2" Jan. 7-8, 1996
  6. 20" Dec. 26-27,2010
  7. 19.8" Feb. 16-17, 2003
  8. 19" Jan. 26-27, 2011
  9. 18.1" Mar. 7-8, 1941
  10. 18" Dec. 26, 1872 

Blizard of 1888
Blizzard of 1888 via www.nyc.org

And whether the snow comes early and steady in the season, or not until January… the trend for several seasons has been record breaking snowstorms!   Consider this:  last winter, New York City got a late start with snow, but that didn’t slow things down.  The first storm was huge with 20” the day after Christmas.  Climate trends now point to very active snow seasons that occur in February.  It’s interesting to note that almost 60% of New York's average seasonal snowfall happens after January 27. Also, half of the top 10 snowiest months ever recorded happened in February! 

Siberian Snow Coverage – what’s happening north of us does matter for winter extremes!

SnowcoverOne reliable clue in winter forecasting has been the amount of snow on the ground in October and early November in Eur-Asia.  If there is above average snow cover in Siberia – winters are typically colder and more active.   In short, there is no shortage of snow cover in Asia and the evidence supports an active, above average winter in the Northeast including the NYC area.

Ocean Patterns – the biggest clue now has a new twist with recently released research

El Nino – warmer than average Pacific Ocean temperatures and La Nina  - colder than average Pacific Ocean temperatures have traditionally given the most reliable and most useful clues for winter forecasts.  A strong La Nina pattern creates blocking over Greenland which forces the jet stream to buckle and push frigid air into the Eastern US.  We are currently in a weakening La Nina pattern, there is cold water in NE pacific which tends to prevent extremely cold winters here.  Basically, it’s an ocean pattern that sems to be a weak result of the Greenland block, cold but not crazy cold!  (Another clue to winter snow in NYC is the warm water in North Atlantic, this current observation tends to increase storm activity and boost winter snow forecasts.)   There is also new research says that most important ocean factor for forecasts is the warming in North Atlantic called the North Atlantic Oscillation.   Basically, NAO seems to trump any effects of the much more publicized La Nina/El Nino, at least for the eastern US.  And the current NAO expectations are closely related to blocking patterns that force cold air into the Northeast during winter months.  Right Now we are in a Negative ( -NAO) forces the jet stream to buckle and dump cold into the east.  But it’s interesting to note the concerns with NAO forecasting…. It often changes week to week (+/-) during the winter!!  Plus,  scientists haven’t been able to predict it accurately more than a week or two in advance what the NAO will do next.  So, it’s hard to consider the NAO while making a winter forecast in November.  But, from what is known and discussed with long term forecasters, it appears during weakening La Nina the NAO remains  mainly negative.

SPECIAL CONCERN:  NYC has had so much rain, 2011 is currently ranked as the 2nd wettest year ever!  The amount of water in the soil is always important in forecsting… once the ground freezes the moisture will be locked in and then when thawing begins, the moisture is released not just from soil but also from melting snow.  Essentially, cold weather will keep moisture frozen in the ground throughout the winter. However, when spring temperatures melt the snow, that melting water is added to all the water that will thaw from the ground. The bottom line is that if late winter storms happen as Spring thaw begins our area could have severe flooding consequences. 

Meteorologist Amy Freeze

Weather Experiments for kids


Posted by WABC on December 1, 2011 in Science , Sports , Travel | Permalink





We are on Long Island and January 14th have to transport our daughter to Utica for college, are we going to be able to do so, or we be snowed out 8-/



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