Winter 2022-23: Another La Niña year could have big impacts

Water in the Pacific along the equator is cooler than normal, which disrupts normal global patterns
Published: Dec. 5, 2022 at 3:42 PM EST

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - This is the forecast meteorologists are most afraid of: Accurate seasonal forecasts, especially winter, are hard to make confidently. And the delicate dance that moisture and cold air do in Central Virginia makes it even tougher.

Often, when it snows here, it’s BARELY cold enough.

The overall global weather pattern, however, can give us some ideas as to what the weather might look like this season. For the third straight year, the globe is in a La Niña pattern. This hasn’t happened yet this century.

During a La Niña pattern, water in the Pacific along the equator is cooler than normal, which disrupts normal global weather patterns.

The blue along the equator indicates cooler than normal water in the equatorial pacific
The blue along the equator indicates cooler than normal water in the equatorial pacific(climate.gov)

In a La Niña winter, we typically see warmer-than-average temperatures in Virginia.

The winter La NIÑA pattern, in a graphic from Climate.gov
The winter La NIÑA pattern, in a graphic from Climate.gov(climate.gov)

Since the limiting factor for snow around here is the cold air, that can tip the scales in favor of less snow.

If you remember our last two winters (both La Niña), the outlook isn’t great for snow fans. Although there was some snow and even a brutal ice storm last winter, the snow totals for most of us were unimpressive.

Our average snow total in RVA (using the years 1990-2020) is 8.8 inches.

We expect we’ll get a below-average year for the third straight year. But it only takes one storm to bring big totals, and a lot can happen in a three-month period.

Although the overall winter pattern doesn’t look snowy, remember that even in a La Niña year, you can still get cold. It is winter, after all.