Social media has been overrun with claims that this winter will be one for the record books. But, what forecasters are reporting depends on their source.
According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the high plains region, which includes Wyoming, predicts winter this year will be milder than normal with slightly above normal precipitation. The coldest temperatures are expected from mid-December through early January, and also from late January to mid-February. Snowfall is expected to be above normal, with the heaviest snow period from early January to mid-February and also into March.
Sounds like a normal Wyoming winter. The question is, what is normal?
Joe Lester with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Billings said it’s normal to have wild fluctuations in temperature and snow amounts during the course of any winter.
Also, he noted, seasonal predictions don’t include any information about the severity or number of individual storms.
Forecasters sometimes refer to the El Nino or La Nina influencing weather pattern. That is just one factor taken into account in weather predictions, he added. Other factors include polar sea ice, ocean temperatures, snow cover, and wind.
For this winter, the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a factor, according to Lester, which indicates neutral conditions and that neither El Nino nor La Nina climate patterns are influencing current weather trends.
According to the NWS winter outlook, the chance of temperatures being above normal, below normal, or normal are pretty much the same. This means the odds of seeing more precipitation than normal are 44 percent, with a 33 percent chance precipitation will be normal, and a 23 percent chance this winter will be dryer than normal.
Lester said what typically happens is people remember one big event, which shapes their memory for that entire winter.
Historical NWS data from 1990 shows a very slight decline in the average temperature from December through February. In that same time period, precipitation has also increased.
SkiJinks, a NOAA website devoted to getting kids involved in the science of weather, reports that a seven-day forecast can accurately predict the weather about 80 percent of the time. A five-day forecast is right about 90 percent of the time. While 10-day or longer forecasts tend to be right only half the time.
In the short term, the NWS has issued a Red Flag Warning in effect through 8 p.m. tonight, which means gusty wind coupled with low relative humidity create critical fire weather conditions.
On Friday, a storm system is expected to move into the region, bringing colder temperatures and moisture, with rain and snow predicted for Saturday night and throughout Sunday.