Jennifer Rukavina is the Chief Meteorologist for WPSD Local 6 in Paducah, KY where climate and weather are always making an impact.
By the end of March 2013, we were more than ready to put winter behind us after bitterly cold temperatures hanging on and periods of snow blanketing the area. We were influenced by a weak La Niña episode and arctic air was readily available to the Eastern U.S.
Currently, the Climate Prediction Center is in "La Niña Watch" mode with a 70 percent chance of development this fall and continuing into winter 2016-2017. A record El Niño episode came to an end early in the summer and we have been in a neutral period for a couple of months now. Signs of continued cooling in the Pacific waters off the coast of South America points to the likely development of a weak La Niña episode for the cool season.
The reason we look at El Niño and La Niña episodes is because it has a direct impact on the overall weather pattern across North America. It gives us guidance. During La Niña, we tend to see colder winters and a higher likelihood of stormy (wintry) weather. Temperatures during past La Niña winters look like this:
La Niña influenced winters have shown in the past:
Temperatures: The weakest episodes of La Niña have produced colder temperatures averaged from Dec-Feb. The stronger the episode the less likely it became
Snowfall Totals: During the weaker La Niña episodes during winter months, higher snowfall totals were more common. The stronger the episode, the lower snow totals tended to be as a result. Some of our historically highest snowfall events have occurred during weak La Niña influenced winters.
Precipitation Totals: Total precipitation (rain, sleet, snow, freezing rain) varied quite a bit for each La Niña winter but also trended toward being at or above average.
Here’s what NOAA is currently forecasting for the Oct-Nov-Dec period which finishes up fall and begins winter:
Folklore has been a fun and interesting way to "predict" upcoming winter seasons. In the Mid-South, many of us are familiar with two popular indicators, the persimmon seed and the woolly bear. I was driving through the campus of WKCTC last month and collected a few persimmon fruits to cut open a couple seeds. The result of the seeds opening are shown below. As for the woolly bear caterpillar, I "analyzed" one that a viewer sent me a picture of from South Fulton, Tenn. The segments/colors are also explained below.
One thing that can have a very large impact on the winter weather pattern is where the actual jet stream will set up for most of the season. It can make a big difference between cool and mild, snowy/icy/rainy across the Local 6 area alone. We've seen it time and time again.
Here are some key points from the guidance that we've looked at and what folklore supports/suggests:
Temperature: Average or below average temperatures are most likely. A few warming periods are almost always expected during any winter in the Local 6 area.
Precipitation: Average precipitation of including all forms is most likely. With average or below temperatures expected, a trend towards snow/sleet/freezing rain may be likely.
Snowfall: Average or above average snowfall is likely. Normal snowfall for the winter season is 8 inches.
This originally appeared on Rukavina's Extreme Weather and Climate Blog