Forecasters Open Winter Desk Just as Snow Memories Fade

By Brian K. Sullivan | September 16, 2015

The U.S. Weather Prediction Center opened its winter forecast desk Tuesday.

Wait, isn’t it still summer? Yes. The calendar doesn’t usher in the Northern Hemisphere’s autumn until Sept. 23, with winter arriving on Dec. 22.

Snow, however, doesn’t always come according to the calendar. Just ask the folks south of Buffalo who got snow by the foot last November. Or the good citizens of Boston, who saw temperatures still in the 60s in December, only to have a six- week blitz beginning in late January that set a seasonal snowfall record.

Winter weather can get started in the Rocky Mountains in September, so it’s a good thing the forecasters will be ready. According to the National Weather Service, there is a chance of frost in parts of Colorado later this week.

The opening of the winter desk means a reset for the season. Perhaps Boston and Buffalo can put last year’s pounding behind them and start looking forward to what lies ahead.

Will there be another record this winter? Well, it’s a little hard to say.

There is a full-fledged El Nino now in the Pacific Ocean. That phenomenon has been known to bring milder winters to the northern tier of the U.S. and push the storm tracks further south. In 2010, an El Nino combined with other patterns, and most of the winter storms left their largest deliveries in Washington, Philadelphia and New York, leaving Boston and Buffalo rather unscathed by comparison.

Of course, the news isn’t all that rosy for Boston. While there is evidence of milder winters across the northern U.S. in El Nino years, there doesn’t seem to be a good correlation for what happens in southern New England, said Mike Halpert of the U.S. Climate Prediction Center, which like the WPC is based in College Park, Maryland.

If it’s any consolation, another branch of the National Weather Service that tracks snow – the National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center – won’t start its operations in earnest until Oct. 1. Many local weather service offices also use Oct. 1 to start their seasonal snowfall tallies.

The center uses the date because that’s when the water year starts, said Carrie Olheiser, a researcher at the center in Chanhassen, Minnesota. Snowpack is vital in determining how much water will be available for drinking, agriculture and power in places like California – wrapping up its fourth year of drought — and the Pacific Northwest. It is also a key to whether there will be spring flooding across the eastern U.S.

So, is another 9-plus feet of snow coming to Boston? Halpert said it’s unlikely. Records are records “because they don’t happen every year.”

Although, if another Super Bowl comes with it, some of us might be all right with that.

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