Thoughts on the Winter Forecast

Bill's Blog

The pic. above was the famous Blizzard of ’78. On January 26, 1978, Grand Rapids had about 15″ of snow in 15 hours, along with 40 mph wind gusts that blew the snow into gigantic drifts. I stood on a natural snowdrift that was approximately 14 feet high. After that storm, we had the coldest February ever and the 5th coldest March. The coldest back-back-back winters ever in West Michigan were the winters from 1976-1979. In the winter of 1976-77, we had the coldest winter we’ve had in the last +100 years. That January it snowed in Miami, Florida for the first and only time ever. Grand Rapids went 45 days without getting above freezing. In the winter of 1977-78 we had the great blizzard. In the winter of 1978-79 we had record ice on Lake Michigan and I had to shovel the roof of my house. After I shoveled the roof off…I walked off the roof and onto the snow pile.

First thing to note is that not much has changed since last winter…so we start with a good look at what we had last year. September 2018 was 3.3° warmer than average….and September 2019 was 3.5° warmer than average. September 2018 had above average rainfall, much of which came after Sept. 20. September 2019 had above average rainfall, much of which came after September 22. Both Sept. 2018 and Sept. 2019 had below average sunshine.

The first 11 days of Oct. 2018 were warmer than average. Then the rest of the month was a little colder than average. Again we had above average rainfall. We’ve had quite the head start, so it’s likely that Oct. 2019 will also have above average rainfall.

“Winter” came Nov. 9 – we had a 5″ snowfall on the 9th-10th and 21 of the last 24 days of November were colder than average. We ended the month with over 14″ of snow and 5.5° colder than average. We had only 8.9% of possible sunshine in Nov. 2018.

Then someone turned off the snow. We had only 3.2″ of snow in December and 1.6″ from Jan. 1-18. The second half of winter was “WINTER”. We got nearly 29″ of snow in the last 12 days of January and it got cold…REALLY cold. The “polar vortex” paid us a visit. We had an 8-day stretch at the end of the month when it never got to 20° – highlighted by HIGH temperatures of +2 on the 29th and +4 on the 30th. The snow kept coming and we ended the season with 81.3″ of snow. Ever month from January to June was colder than average.

October 3, 2019 – Sea Surface Temperature Difference from Average

Here’s the Oct. 3 Sea-Surface Temperature Anomaly Map (difference from average). Most of the oceans in the Northern Hemisphere are warmer than average and much of the ocean area of the Southern Hemisphere is colder than average. The cold water off S. America is moving north and trying to replace the El Nino (warmer than average water temperatures along the Equator west of S. America) with a La Nina (colder than average water along the Equator west of S. America.

Note the warmer than average water south of Alaska and east of the U.S. By the way, you can see a couple of hurricane tracks where the storms have churned up some colder water from below the surface.

Ridge over Alaska in Winter

Upper level ridges tend to occur in the mean where there is warm(er than average) water. Here’s a typical winter pattern when there is a ridge in the Gulf of Alaska. The jet goes way north up into Alaska – so Alaska has a warm winter. Then the jet plunges down into the N. Rockies and Plains, allowing lots of cold air to reach the northern U.S. Often, heavier precipitation occurrs from the Ohio Valley into the S. Great Lakes.

N. Hemisphere ice cover

Here’s a graph of N. Hemisphere ice cover. We reached a minimum ice cover this year on Sept. 17 – a few days earlier than average. The ice extent is greater than the lean year of 2012, but below the 10-year average.

North American Ice Cover

Here’s North American snow cover. Look at the snow that was on the ground Thursday AM just north of Lake Superior…also in N. Dakota and Montana. That’s where that jet can bring cold air in a pattern like this. We’ll continue to closely watch the snow cover over the next month.

When I was on vacation last week in NE Wisconsin, I saw dozens of flocks (skeins) of geese flying south in their characteristic V formations. Native Americans watched for migrating birds and knew that they were reacting to the snow and cold building up farther north.

Asia snow cover Oct. 3, 2019

We also look at the buildup of snow in Asia. In general, the more snow there is in Siberia and E. Asia in late October…the more snow and cold we see in the Great Lakes (moreso in the 2nd half of winter.).

I also looked at the 10 wettest Septembers we’ve ever had in Grand Rapids to see what the winter was like that followed. One I don’t have data for…so of the 9 years….6 were followed by colder than average winters (and several were really cold and snowy) and 3 were milder than average, but not by a lot.

I’ll continue to do some diggin’ (by that I mean research…not digging snow, I hope). We’ll have the official winter forecast toward late October…but…be advised…a warm and wet pattern in September does NOT mean we’re going to have a warm winter in the Great Lakes.

Sunset at S. Haven Thursday 10/3/19

Here’s sunset at South Haven Thursday evening. I thought it was a pretty pic. and I’d attach it to the blog. Happy Friday and Happy Weekend!

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