2018-19 West Michigan winter forecast

Weather

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It may not feel like it now, but winter is right around the corner. You may have heard it will be warm and dry, but Storm Team 8 isn’t sold on that outlook.

There are several strong factors in place right now that usually throw us a snowy and cold season.

After looking at the data, every member of Storm Team 8 is leaning towards a colder and snowier winter season. Matt Kirkwood is going with 1-2° cooler than average for the season with 85-90″ of snow. An average season is about 75″ of snow. Terri DeBoer is leaning towards 100″ of snow. Ellen Bacca is leaning towards 85″ of snow with 1° cooler than average.

Bill Steffen is also leaning snowy and cold. He believes the lake effect snow band will likely set up throwing snow a little further inland and down into Kalamazoo and Calhoun Counties.

For a full discussion behind the forecast, check out our Facebook Live looking behind the forecast.

>>Inside woodtv.com: Storm Team 8 Forecast

FACTOR 1: A MODOKI EL NINO

Water temperatures off the coast of South America can have an impact on our jet stream. When these water temperatures are warmer than usual along the equator, it is called an El Nino. When the water temperatures are colder than average, it’s called a La Nina. Water temperatures there have an impact on our jet stream here and consequently how warm or cold our winter will be. 

No two El Nino or La Nina events are exactly the same. This winter, we are expected to have an El  Nino form. 

“El Nino this year is (expected to be) weak to moderate. It’s not strong. (With) a strong El Nino, we are pretty sure we would have a warm winter here in the Great Lakes. This one is weak to moderate. Very often, cold winters come when we have very weak El Ninos,” Storm Team 8 chief meteorologist Bill Steffen explained.

The pocket of warmest water along the equator also looks like it will be farther away from South America. When this happens, it is known as a Modoki El Nino.

“When you have a Modoki El Nino, about 63 percent of them turn out to be colder and snowier in the Great Lakes,” Storm Team 8’s Matt Kirkwood said.

Click here for a map of when we usually see our first trace of snow each year. 

FACTOR 2: WARM WATER IN THE GULF OF ALASKA

Water in the Gulf of Alaska is warmer than usual. This can cause the storm track over the United States to bring warm air over the Western U.S. and cooler air down over the Great lakes. This could help generate more lake-effect snow than usual. 

Here’s how much snow we usually see each winter.

FACTOR 3: SNOW IN CANADA AND EURASIA

Snow has started to accumulate already in Canada and ice is forming in Hudson Bay earlier than usual. That means cold air is already starting to gain strength close by. 

“As that cold air builds up and gets stronger, that can move south and as we get into the time right around Thanksgiving or thereafter, that’s when the winter pattern kind of sets up,” Bill Steffen said.

FACTOR 4: WET OCTOBER AND EL NINO COMBINATION

There have only been four years in the record books that logged a wet October leading into an El Nino. All four of these featured snowier than usual winters, according to Matt Kirkwood.

“They all had above average snowfall. Not a lot above average, around 80 inches or so, but that’s still more than we usually see,” he said.

TAKEAWAYS

Like basically all West Michigan winters, expect a few thaws and a good winter storm or two, but don’t expect to be soaking up the sunshine. 

When all is said and done, we wil likely have pulled in more snow than usual, and colder conditions on average. 

>>App users: Watch Storm Team 8 break down West Michigan winters here.

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