Will this be a colder, snowier winter?
The Park Rapids area received four inches of snow this weekend, and the National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts show two more changes of measurable snowfall this week, kicking off the meteorological snow season even though it’s only mid October.
“We measure from the first snowfall after the summer all the way through the last snowfall and count that as the snow total even though it comes in the fall,” said Carl Jones, a meteorologist for the NWS in Grand Forks.
“The Climate Prediction Center that is part of the National Weather Service and NOAA looks at the long-range connections between what’s happening in the ocean,” he said. “There’s a high likelihood of La Nina developing, which is associated with colder than average surface water temperatures in the Pacific near the equator. That can have some influence on weather patterns throughout North America. What that typically means for us is that we tend to see a little bit colder than normal winter overall as well as a slightly wetter than normal precipitation pattern.”
Jones stressed that this is an overall outlook. “There are other factors that probably have more of an influence on our weather,” he said. “It’s not a slam dunk that if we have La Nina that’s going to happen. It just means there’s a chance leaning to that happening. Quite honestly, publications like the Farmer’s Almanac that predict what winter will be like are more of a novelty thing, sort of like the National Enquirer.”
Long-term weather forecasts are tricky
The Grand Forks office does weekly predictions, which Jones says are more accurate than long-range forecasts.
“In the near term, we should stay colder and snowier than average,” he said Monday. “We have another chance for accumulating snow in the Park Rapids area on Tuesday, which we’re forecasting two to four inches as well as another chance coming up on Thursday, which may have even more snow than the previous two events. We can only talk in probabilities with the monthly outlook, but it’s even harder to predict what’s going to happen over the whole winter. There are so many factors that can change things. It’s incredibly hard to get things right on a larger scale.”
The jet stream is just one of the factors that impacts the weather patterns.
“You can think of the jet stream as the driving force behind our weather,” Jones said.
When the jet stream dips down, cold air funnels into the northern United States.
“It allows air from the north to start making its way further south,” he said. “If you have that jet stream tapping into some moisture from the Pacific, that can increase chances for precipitation depending on how the jet stream orients itself coming off the Rockies. Our biggest low pressures come out of Colorado and tap into the moisture content further to the south.”
Will we have a white Halloween?
Jones said over the next two weeks he doesn’t see a warm up in sight.
“Initially, it was looking like towards the end of October we were maybe going to see a brief warm up, at least back towards average temperatures,” he said. “But that signal seems to be slowly fluttering away, which is unfortunate. What will really probably dictate our temperatures as we go into the later part of October is how much snow we have on the ground. If we have snow on the ground, we have a much higher chance of staying cooler than average just because the snow holds in the cold. If we keep on getting these additional inches of accumulating snow, that’s just more snow that we’re going to have to try to melt.”