Wild, wet winter ahead? Maybe not

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There’s little question that last winter was a dud for most states, with the overall dry winter transitioning to a dry spring and summer. Now, producers and consumers are looking to the 2012-2013 winter season for drought-busting precipitation, but with the dwindling development of El Niño, winter forecasts instead appear to be favoring a drier-than-average winter...again.

AccuWeather was the first to announce its winter forecast, initially releasing it in August and updating it again two months later in mid-October. Forecasters there expect below-average snowfall from the Corn Belt into the Northwest. The northern Plains and upper Midwest can also expect mild temperatures, thanks to the spotty snow cover.

"Across the Upper Midwest, cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, I think, are going to miss out on the big systems down to the south as far as snowfall goes. I think they are going to have to rely on more clipper systems coming down out of the north and west," AccuWeather Lead Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok said in the report available here.

Clipper systems are quick-moving storms that dip into the U.S. from Alberta, Canada. Often, they are not big snow-producers.  

Similarly, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its winter forecast last week, and their experts also believe that the odds favor warmer-than-average temperatures for Texas, northward through the Central and Northern Plains and westward across the Southwest, the Northern Rockies, and eastern Washington, Oregon and California. Drier-than-average conditions are expected in the Upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and northern Missouri and eastern parts of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and western Illinois.

El Niño – or the lack of its development – is quickly becoming one of the more difficult aspects to the forecast.

“This is one of the most challenging outlooks we’ve produced in recent years because El Niño decided not to show up as expected,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “In fact, it stalled out last month, leaving neutral conditions in place in the tropical Pacific.”

Read, “Elusive El Niño challenges NOAA’s 2012 U.S. Winter Outlook.”

Anthony Lupo, professor and chair of the Department of Soil, Environmental and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Missouri (MU), takes the forecast one step further. Lupo predicts that the Midwest will experience between 4.75 and 6 inches of rainfall and about 15 inches of snow this winter. If his prediction is correct, there will not be enough moisture to reach deep into the soil.

“If the soil five feet under the surface remains dry, we won’t have moisture for plants late in the growing season next year,” Randy Miles, an associate professor of soil science at MU, said. “It takes a long time to recharge this sub-soil, especially after the drought we experienced. While the rains we have had have been very helpful, the water has not moved down to that level. Right now, we are very vulnerable to losing the moisture through evaporation. With warm, sunny and windy days, it’s very easy for the moisture to evaporate.”

Read more from Miles and Lupo here.

Fans of the Old Farmer’s Almanac may have the best outlook for the 2012-2013 winter season.

“Good news: Areas suffering from drought during Summer 2012 should receive enough winter precipitation to bring improvement,” a preview of the Almanac’s long-range winter weather predictions said in a report available here.

Other forecasts instead look to other forces of nature. Kansas City meteorologist Brett Anthony has been watching the acorn production of his Pin Oak trees and squirrel preparations for winter.  The more acorns the trees produce and the faster the squirrels prepare for winter, the more snow the region gets.

While his forecast is more for fun than for accuracy, Anthony does predict that the area will see more now than last year, but snowfall will still be below-average.  Read more about Anthony’s “squirrely” theory.  

Talk to us: How much snowfall do you expect this year?

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