Early Snow—Cold Winter?

Jul 20, 2017
Weak El Nino


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Chicago, the windy—errr, snowycity, was hit by snow during the first week of October. That’s the earliest snowfall since World War II!

For those of us who still shiver when we hear the words “Polar Vortex”, the early cold makes us worry that there will be a repeat of the frigid misery of last winter. Is there another Arctic blast waiting to freeze us again this winter.


Brrrr! Is this the future?

(As faithful readers of The Old Farmer’s Almanac know, their staff has answered “yes.” In the words of Editor Janice Stillman, “Think of it as a refriger-nation.”)

The problem is that the Arctic is unusually cold. Fortunately, it is not as cold as last year, which had the coldest winter ever recorded, but still very chilly. It has been so cold that, by the end of August, there was 1.5 million square kilometers more sea ice than there was back in 2012. (It sounds so impressive in metrics!) That’s 579,000 sq. miles to Americans. This is less ice than we saw in the 1970s, when satellite measurements began, but it is impressive regrowth.

There is 1.5 million sq. km more sea ice in the Arctic than back in 2012. Source ‒ National Snow and Ice Data Center

Some scientists point out that there is a strong possibility of an El Niño this winter. That normally creates warm winter weather. Unfortunately, even if the event occurs, most scientists expect a weak to moderate event. When that happens, the warm Pacific waters warm the West and cold Arctic air plunges deep into the Midwest and East. Remember last winter, when the US weather had a split personality. An El Niño would repeat that weather split.

A weak El Niño would allow cold Arctic temperatures to drop into the Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states as well as Eastern Canada. Source: NOAA

So, regard these early autumn snows as a warning. It’s time to get out the coats and mittens.

To get winter predictions for your area, pick up your copy of the 2015 Almanac!

About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to "Weather Whispers" by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these blog posts. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.

Reader Comments

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The two almanac winter

The two almanac winter outlooks don't seem to mesh...the U.S. northern plains are expected to be cold & dry while just across the border, it turns snowy across south-central Canada? That's a pretty abrupt transition from dry to snowy over a short distance along the U.S.-Canada border.

Good observation. I post a

Good observation.

I post a weekly weather blog and publish The Browning Newsletter.  I do not make the official Old Farmer's Almanac forecast and do not know why they have this transition.

Hi, Wayne, You are referring

Hi, Wayne, You are referring to the US and Canadian editions of the 2015 Almanac (this for the benefit of any other readers of this column). The forecasts are made for the different countries using different criteria (diff weather station reports, diff historic averages, and more), so may appear to conflict. Virtually all of the forecast visualizations/illustrations on the maps are broad strokes to which Mother Nature pays no heed. Weather conditions on any one side of a national, state, or provincial, or regional border on our maps could sweep into any other side.
We hope this answers your question.

Since we have had 2 snows

Since we have had 2 snows already here and Lake Superior is 6F, on average, colder than it was at this time last year, it is going to be a cold winter. Most of the really old-timers are saying it is going to be a very cold winter, colder than last year, for us and we are expecting to start seeing ice on Superior well before Thanksgiving.

Looking at the 3-month climate forecasts from Climate Prediction Center, I'd say it was a total fail for the Great Lakes. Looking further out, they are saying above average temperatures for us. But that does not fit the data and conditions we currently have. It is also looking like El Nino is going to be a La Nada at best as all the indicator numbers are continuing the downward trend they have been on for the past 5 months.

Keep up the good work Evelyn.

Thank you! Don't count El

Thank you!

Don't count El Nino out completely. There is a high probability of El Nino conditions, if not a full scale "event" affecting this winter and steering the cold to the Midwest and East.

If I'm not mistaking... I

If I'm not mistaking... I remember something very similar happened in 2009 when an El Nino developed that fall and during the winter 2009-10 record snowfall slammed the east coast.. which earned the name "Snowpocalypse" and shut down major cities from Raleigh to New York multiple times. Then a major freeze made its way to the Gulf Coast down to southern Florida and citrus crops were damaged. I live in the Richmond metro area and I remember that winter very well!

Is it true there are very strong indications pointing out a cold winter in the east? Such as the warm north Pacific waters, and the Greenland block present this October, etc?

You are exactly right to

You are exactly right to point to 2009. There are some very good indicators that this year, like that year, will have a very cold Eastern winter.


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