Winter? Cold? Snowy? It depends on who you ask, and how you play the odds

Kelsey Eliot sat in her pickup truck and chewed a french fry Thursday as she stared across Hope Lake at Virgil Mountain and Greek Peak in Virgil.

It’s the first week of fall. The leaves have barely started changing. The goldenrod is still in bloom, for pity’s sake. Eliot’s thought about the coming winter?

“We always hope for more snow,” said Eliot, of McGraw.

Does she know what the greater Cortland area is going to get? “Not even a little bit.”

That’s OK. Even the experts, depending on how one defines expert, disagree.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac of Dublin, New Hampshire, predicts a cold, snowy winter for upstate New York. “The eastern half of the U.S. should brace for potentially record-breaking cold to define the season,” it reported in its 2022-23 winter weather forecast.

“Snowfall will be greater than normal from central New England through northern North Carolina, from the Lower Great Lakes and the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys into the southern Plains, from the northern Plains into eastern Washington, and across the higher terrain of the southern Rockies and California,” it added. “Freezing temperatures will also bring above-average snow totals to most areas in the eastern U.S. that typically experience snowfall.”

The almanac’s prediction algorithm, which includes an analysis of sunspot activity, is 80% accurate, the magazine claims, although other sources suggest it’s closer to 50% or 60% accurate.

The Farmers’ Almanac of Lewiston, Maine, concurs.

“Got flannel? Hot chocolate? Snowshoes? It’s time to stock up!” it declares in its winter prediction. “According to our extended forecasts, this winter season will have plenty of snow, rain, and mush–as well as some record-breaking cold temperatures! We are warning readers to get ready to shake, shiver, and shovel!”

The National Weather Service at Binghamton uses fewer exclamation points, and sounds a bit more technical, but its seasonal outlooks from November through March predict an even probability of greater or less precipitation and a 33% to 40% chance of higher-than-normal temperatures.

“La Nia conditions are present, as represented in current oceanic and atmospheric observations,” the National Weather Service reports. That means a warm patch of water in the Pacific that draws moisture west toward Indonesia, leading to drier weather in the continental U.S., particularly the Southwest. But its effects can be felt in the Northeast, too.

“A continuation of La Nia is likely through the Northern Hemisphere Winter 2022-23, with an 89% chance during October-November-December, decreasing to a 54% chance for January-February-March,” the weather service adds. “Conversely, the chances of El Nio are exceedingly small, with probabilities less than 3% through the upcoming winter.”

Albany National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Fugis says the accuracy of long-term projections depends on location. “I would say the success rate is more hit or miss for this part of the world,” Frugis said.

“They look at some global patterns, things like El Nio and La Nia and precipitation and pressure patterns across the globe to make those projections,” Frugis said. “When it comes to the Northeast, a lot of those global patterns don’t affect us as heavily … there’s a lot more variability.”

There is still hope for winter weather lovers.

“Tomorrow’s forecast is a yes-or-no type forecast,” said Arthur DeGaetano, director of the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University in Ithaca. “For long-term forecasts, all we can do is give the odds conditions will be higher or lower than average. I think the best way to describe long-term forecasts is like a set of loaded dice: It’s not a sure shot every time. It’s more shading the odds than a typical weather forecast.”

Not exactly what Eliot was looking for. She skis. Snow is an integral part of her winter entertainment. Lots of snow. Cold is good, too. She’s probably rooting for the sun spots.

“I want a long ski season, please, but a quick transition to spring,” she said.


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