Winter weather outlook: Will there be lots of snow?

El Nino could play a role in this winter’s weather

NBC12's Winter Weather Outlook

Richmond, VA (WWBT) - Now that we’re on the cusp of our transition from fall to winter, it’s time to look at what kind of season we might expect.

There are a considerable number of factors that come into play in seasonal forecasts, and none can provide anything more than clues this far in advance.

Nevertheless, those clues do provide some hints of how far our general weather might skew one way or the other from the long-term climate average.

El Nino, a warming of Pacific sea-surface temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere, may give us the most notable consideration (a weak to modest one is forecast to occur this winter), but many other factors also come into play, such as soil moisture, early-season snowpack over northern reaches of our Hemisphere, and statistical model comparisons.

Seasonal outlooks are always best viewed in general terms due to the huge complexities of our atmosphere... always in motion, always changing.

NOAA’s official outlook for the southeastern third of the U.S. is “equal chances” of warm vs cold, basically a coin flip for our part of the Country, while precipitation is expected to trend towards a higher probability of a wetter than average winter (snow depends on cold). El Nino winters are typically mild over the northern portions of the United States. Here are their outlooks:

The dominant southern jet stream pattern, often seen during El Nino winters, would help drive the wetter-than-normal scenario across the South and southern mid-Atlantic.

So what are the clues and trends we see for this winter for Virginia?

Comparisons to the long-term average as well as to last year’s winter can give us a baseline of sorts to work from. As noted in the second bullet point above, it will be hard to replicate last winter’s extreme cold outbreaks that were frequent and notable (except for the VERY warm February).

Sure, we will have cold spells, but trying to time how any of those may coincide with storms from the south is impossible to predict until we are within a week or two of the actual storms. That is why the snow outlook is complicated, and will depend more on short-term weather pattern variations versus longer-term general trends.

Given that, here is a snapshot of our long-term average snowfall and what we saw last winter (Richmond):

The key to how much snow Virginia sees will be how many of this winter’s storms interact ideally with cold air. That again is an unknown this far in advance, but we can speculate that IF we see an increase in southern storms, there would potentially be more opportunities for some wintry precipitation as well.

So how will we compare to the average this winter? Our best guess is hedging above the long-term average, but as every prudent meteorologist will tell you >>>

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