Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The 2011 - 2012 Winter Outlook

Before we talk about this winter, let’s take a brief look back at last winter.  The revisit is not pleasant for me.  There was a blown forecast, some heartbreak misses, and a physical injury to top it all off.  

I thought last winter would be mild and feature no significant snow storms for Kokomo.  For temperatures, I had forecast a cold start to winter with a warming overall with us finishing up with slightly above average for winter.  While we did start quite cold in December, January remained below average.  February did climb above normal but the damage was already done.  We finished with more than 2 degrees below normal.  

I completely fail with the snowfall.  A top ten winter was never even in my wildest dreams but I happened.   I measured 34.3” with 6 trace amounts.  While Kokomo is not an official reporting location for climate data, we average about 24” or so.  Indianapolis recorded their 7th snowiest winter on record.   My prediction was slightly below average with 22 to 24”.

Where I totally failed was with my snow day forecast for the county school.  After several successful years of predictions, I am not even sure I deserve credit for trying.  I said there would be no snow days but instead there were five missed days.  However there were just two instances to get these five days.

The first instance was January 11-12.  The first day was not true snow day since school started on time but they did dismiss very early.  It was all planned and while I could have not counted it, in other years I would have so I took the hit this time.  It was just 4.5” overall but it was enough to get the job done.

What could have been historic for Kokomo ended up being big disappointment after it was over.  Forecast models were showing 2+ feet of snow.  (Yeah, feet!)  While we knew that was overdone, I did go with 10” plus a couple of inches of sleet.  The forecasts for south of here were for an apocalyptic ice storm.  Many heeded the forecast and bought generators.  (I bought one.)  This event unfolded with two waves.  The first wave was significantly weaker than expected and the second wave turned out to be a sleet storm.  An inch of snow and three inches sleet was what I decided to recorded for the event.  The mess did result in more three snow days for the season.  It also resulted in my wife falling on the sleet and breaking her arm.  That made for an unpleasant six weeks. 

The one bright spot was the very unexpected snow on Saturday February 5th.  Six inches fell and was the biggest snow of the season.  There were 18 measurable snow events staring on December 1st and ending on February 25th.  Just a couple of trace amounts were measured after that date.  

I do look back on last winter with some frustration.  Many places got pounded with snow and we just missed more than a few times.

So how does the winter of 2011 – 2012 look?  

One word: Awesome!  

For the record, I am not a trained meteorologist or skilled in long range forecasting.  I am generally a short range forecaster but love winter.  For months, I read and analyze many other forecasts and weigh each one taking into their past verification records in addition to their skill set in meteorology.  Add in a few sprinkles of my own here and there and we have my winter outlook.  With that said, here we go…

The consensus seems to be cold and snowy for the Ohio Valley and lower Great Lakes region.  

Temperatures will be more volatile this winter compared to last with deep intrusions of cold pushing down from Canada but then relaxing with surges of warmth from the south.  Many forecasters have thought winter would start off significantly with December being much below normal.  The models have been hinting at a big flip to winter in the last half of November so that call looks like a good one.

January is where we will begin to experience the up and down swings in temperatures.  The swings in temperatures will produce a variety of weather.  Unlike last winter were we avoided severe weather, the likelihood for severe weather seems elevated for this winter.  

February will see more moderation in temperatures but still some cold shots.

A volatile season will also likely extend winter into March.  The past two winters didn’t feature any measurable snow past the last week of February but I expect some snow in March this year. 
So how much snow will we see this winter?  

A couple of very favorable snow tracks will be in play this season.  Alberta Clippers will be responsible for frequent smaller snows of 2 to 4”.  Occasionally a clipper can be an over performer and surprise us with 5 to 6 plus inches.  Clippers make light and fluffy snow.  It is easy to shovel.

The best snows for Kokomo come from low pressure systems which originate on the east side of Colorado.  These usually produce the heavy wet snow and have the accompanying winds to cause considerable drifting.  Expect several of these tracks to be featured this winter.    

December’s cold will help with several smaller snow events.  Normal snowfall of 7 to 8” seems about right.
January snow will see increased chances for snow with the last half of the month the most likely time frame for a significant snowstorm.  Above average snow will 12 to 15” of accumulating snow.  That of course can go up rapidly with a big system.  

February will see just a handful of snows but the first week will again be the best time for a bigger storm.   Snow will measure 8 to 10” for the month.  

March should see a good snowstorm this year with 4 to 6” of accumulation.  

By winters end, we could see nearly 40” of snow but will likely be close to 35”.  The previous two winters were 32” and 34” and this once should fall right in line.  One thing I do not see is an elevated threat for ice.

Snow Days

The frequent clipper snows will produce many two hour delays.  However the heavier wet snows will close schools this winter.  For the Howard County Schools, I predict 4 weather related closings this winter.

That is the forecast for the Howard County winter and this is a high confidence forecast.  Enjoy.

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