Winter Weather Forecasters Have Been Off the Mark So Far

Most Called For Mild 2017-18 Season
By RICK MELLERUP | Dec 17, 2017
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

If the weather pattern of the past couple of weeks continues in Southern Ocean County, many weather forecasters may end up with egg on their faces. The general consensus of long-term forecasters late this fall was that the winter of 2017-18 would treat the Jersey Shore well in terms of a rather mild season while outdoor sports enthusiasts who have the money and time off to travel a few hundred miles north would revel in a winter wonderland.

The tone was set by NOAA – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – the parent agency of the National Weather Service. It called for a “cooler, wetter North and warmer, drier South.”

NOAA, in main, based its prediction on a weak La Niña developing (a 55 to 65 percent chance) in the Pacific: “If La Niña conditions develop, we predict it will be weak and potentially short-lived, but it could still shape the character of the upcoming winter,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “Typical La Niña patterns during winter include above average precipitation and colder than average temperatures along the Northern Tier of the U.S. and below normal precipitation and drier conditions across the South.”

Of course, that doesn’t tell us much about New Jersey, a mid-Atlantic state stuck between the North and South (hey, it voted against Lincoln in his 1864 re-election!) And nor could NOAA: “The rest of the country (including the New Jersey on a NOAA map) falls into the equal chance category, which means they have an equal chance for above-, near-, or below-normal temperature and/or precipitation because there is not a strong enough climate signal in these areas to shift the odds.”

New Jersey State Climatologist David Robinson swung New Jersey into the southern column, saying La Niña usually means warmer than normal temperatures with below-average snowfall in New Jersey.

What is average snowfall in the Southern Ocean County area? There are many numbers hanging out there. But NOAA National Climate Center stats show the average annual snowfall between 1981 and 2010 at Atlantic City Airport was 16.5 inches while the average annual snowfall in Beach Haven/Brant Beach was a mere 8.1 inches.

Perhaps the best-known private weather service in the United States, State College, P.-based AccuWeather, was basically in lockstep with NOAA, predicting rain for Jersey but snow for northern and western Pennsylvania and northern New England.

“Areas in the I-95 corridor will average close to normal snowfall, within a few inches,” said Paul Pastelok, AccuWeather’s lead long-range forecaster. “Areas away from the I-95 corridor have a better chance at a big snowfall.”

Those areas away from the I-95 corridor were mainly north and west, however, with a line developing far away from Southern Ocean County. That line appeared to run from New York City to Boston, with Pastelok predicting snowfall of 6 inches above normal for both cities. Indeed, the farther north you go, the more snow is predicted.

“I think this year is going to bring a good ski season in the Northeast,” said Pastelok.

WeatherWorks, another private company, based in Hackettstown, agreed with AccuWeather, saying upstate New York and interior New England would be “cold and very snowy” while New Jersey would see mostly “mixed precipitation events.”

On to the Philadelphia TV meteorologists and their predictions:

Cecily Tynan of ABC said a weak La Niña has “a tendency to keep snowfall near or below average” in her viewing area. “We typically don’t get a lot of snow during a weak La Niña,” she stated, adding that the jet streams resulting from a weak La Niña usually push cold weather to southern Canada and the northern Plains.

So she called for 15 to 24 inches of snow in the City of Brotherly Love and just 12 to 18 inches at the Jersey Shore.

Tynan also predicted slightly above-average temperatures although “much cooler than last year,” which was a very warm winter in the Philly/Jersey Shore region.

NBC Philadelphia’s Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz agreed, predicting just 18 inches of show in Philly, citing the same reason as his competitor did, the weak La Niña. He added another factor, saying high October temperatures were a leading indicator.

“A warm October (which we had) generally leads to warm winters here with less snow.” Toss in a smaller October snow cover in Siberia and Eurasia than in the fall of 2016 and the Hurricane was confident of a mild winter in these parts, suggesting Atlantic City would get only 9 inches of snow throughout the winter, 8 inches below normal.

CBS Philadelphia’s Kate Bilo fell into line as well, calling for temperatures “a little bit above average” and 17 to 23 inches of snow in Philly. Fox Philadelphia issued an unsigned forecast saying there would be “more activity to the north” and calling for a mere 15 to 22 inches of snow in its city throughout the winter.

“Skiers will love it,” Fox Philadelphia concluded.

At the national level, the Weather Channel’s parent company, The Weather Company, went along with the party line, calling for a “cold and wet” North and a “warm and dry” South.

All right, let’s realize that some folks, probably older and more set in their ways, look to almanacs for their winter weather predictions, despite the fact that one, the Old Farmer’s Almanac, freely admits it uses “solar (flare) activity as the driver of our long-range weather forecasts,” while its main competition, the Farmers’ Almanac, relies in the main on the “Moon and its motions” in making its winter weather forecast.

Well, the first’s forecast echoed the professional predictions while the second’s was the only meteorological outlier in the 2017-18 winter weather prediction game The SandPaper could find after hours of research.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac said New Jersey will have a “mild, wet” winter while northern New England would have a “mild, snowy” season, which fit fairly snuggly in the mainstream mold of thinking, adding that the mid-Atlantic and Northeast would be “colder than last year but above-average.”

The Farmers’ Almanac agreed with the general consensus that the Northeast would have a rather chilly and snowy winter.

“From the Great Lakes into the Northeast snowier-than-normal conditions are expected. We can hear the skiers, boarders, and snowmobilers cheering from here.”

The big difference between the Farmers’ Almanac’s prediction and everybody else’s was that its weather map included New Jersey as part of the Northeast instead of the mid-Atlantic.

Well, so far it is the outlier, the Farmers’ Almanac, that is looking mighty good. New Jersey, including Southern Ocean County, has already experienced three snow events this December, with snowfall totals in some areas of the mainland already nearing 9 inches. In other words, the folks who called for 9 to 18 inches at the Jersey Shore for the entire 2017-18 winter season had better hope things calm down fast if they want to avoid embarrassment.

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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