RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — This is the year of El Niño. It’s back and in full force.
El Niño is that very warm ocean current out in the Pacific that rears its ugly head every few years ago, and really changes the weather patterns globally. It is known for changing the location and strength of the Jet Stream and that has huge implications for what happens in the winter.
So what does that mean for us? Well, El Niño winters actually tend to be extreme events, and that causes extremes in winter precipitation. It is basically ALL or NOTHING AT ALL.
I’ve looked back at the last six strong or very strong El Niño in the last 60 years. Here are some examples:
Two of them (1982-1983 with 29.4 inches of snow and 1965-1966 with 29.2 inches of snow) have been humdingers. In fact, those are two of the top 10 winters for snow in the area.
The other three? Well, 1957-1958 (7.7 inches) and 1972-1973 (6.7 inches) turned out to be rather ‘ho-hum’ in the area.
1997-1998 (1.2 inches) and 1991-1992 (.9 inch) — They were absolute duds.
Other factors that could impact this winter’s forecast:
The fall snow in Siberia is not as deep as it has been in previous years. Two things — called the North Atlantic Oscillation and the Arctic Oscillation — don’t look as cold as they have been in the previous years, either. All those work against a lot of snow.
With that in mind, here is the bottom line on what you expect this winter:
- It will not be colder than normal, it should be significantly warmer than normal. Overall I expect to see an average temperature that is .8 degrees above normal. That will be good news for your heating bills.
- Forget a White Christmas. You can order the coal for my stocking right now, but it just isn’t going to happen. Santa might need galoshes, but your kids won’t be trying out new sleds on Christmas morning in your yard unless they come with wheels.
- Snowfall should trend down this season. This is not to say that we are not going to have any snow at all. We will have some winter storms to deal with, but most of those will be wet. The best chance for snow looks to be between January 20 and February 8 for us. If we are going to see a “blockbuster” type winter storm in Virginia, that would be the time frame, but I give it only about a 7 percent chance of happening. I’m not going to completely cut snow out of the forecast this year, but I see us much lower than we have been trending of late with only 8.1 inches of snow expected.