Weather outlook: What will this winter bring?

Brian Romanelli, 19, a student at Temple University and worker at El Cafeito, a coffee and sandwich shop at 3rd and Cecil B. Moore, clears the snow on Friday morning. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)
Brian Romanelli, 19, a student at Temple University and worker at El Cafeito, a coffee and sandwich shop at 3rd and Cecil B. Moore, clears the snow on Friday morning. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer) (Frank Kummer)
Posted: October 21, 2010

The atmosphere is about to fast-forward into November, and some meteorologists see winter getting off to a fast start.

But the early line is that the winter of 2010-11 should be a whole lot lighter on snow, heating budgets and history than its monstrous predecessor.

In an updated outlook released this morning, Accuweather Inc. called for above-normal winter temperatures around here, with near-normal - albeit messy - snowfall. Commodities Weather Group, in Washington, issued a similar outlook last month and plans to freshen it next week.

The government's Climate Prediction Center just posted its forecast and waffled on whether temperatures and precipitation would be above normal around here.

But both the government and private forecasters agreed that overall this is likely to be a winter of extremes across the country, with bitter cold possible in the Pacific Northwest and dangerous drought in the South.

They also concurred that the winter driver this year is going to be the bloodless revolution that has occurred over millions of square miles of the equatorial Pacific.

The unusally warm Pacific surface temperatures (El Nino) that contributed to last winter's record snows in the Mid-Atlantic region have been routed by decidedly chilly waters (La Nina), as though nature has dumped buckets of ice out that way.

The cold waters are expected to disrupt upper-air patterns over North American, but it may take two or three months for the effects to mature.

The promised warmth won't be in evidence the next few days with daytime highs in the upper 50s and nights near 40, more typical of early November.

Accu-Weather's long-range forecaster, Joe Bastardi, said he expects winter to come on strong in the early going before a January warm-up.

In its outlook, the Commodities Group also said the winter could get off to a strong start before the La Nina effects mature.

The La Nina event is classified as "strong," and it may stay that way throughout the winter. But Mike Halpert, the chief forecaster for the climate center, said that other forces driving cold and snow in the Northeast, such as pressure patterns in the North Atlantic, are unpredictable beyond a few weeks.

For what it's worth, none of the six winters in the last 60 years that coincided with a strong La Ninas has been inducted into the Philadelphia Winter Lovers Hall of Fame.

Five of them had temperatures that averaged above normal, and the snow king was the unexceptional winter of 1955-56, with an official snowfall total of 23 inches, an inch above the long-term average and less than a third of what fell here last year.

In the La Nina winter of 1949-50, the official Philadelphia total was 1.9 inches.

A final note: Another record that fell with the winter of 2009-2010 was the one for the most snow in two consecutive winters. With the 22.8 inches of 2008-09, the two-year total hit 101.5, beating the 95.1 of the winters of 1977-78 and'78-'79.

If the early forecasts work out, that two-year record may survive this winter.


Contact Anthony R. Wood at twood@phillynews.com or 610-313-8210.

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