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Forecasting for the 2017-2018 winter season

This time of the year question asked most often is, “what kind of winter can we expect in Western New York”? (Photo: MGN Online)

This time of the year question asked most often is, “what kind of winter can we expect in Western New York”? Will it be a long, cold and snowy season or will we see more variability with significant warmth and melting?

To be honest, long term forecasting is not on my favorites list. Some folks would say with good reason. And to be realistic, it is difficult enough to forecast the weather for the next 7 days. Just consider the extreme variation in snowfall totals over the last two seasons. The 2016-2017 winter produced 107 inches. You may remember it was a late season snowstorm in the month of March that buffeted that total by depositing more than 25 inches of snow. In contrast we have the 2015-2016 season. Rochester measured a paltry 63.7 inches of total snowfall. That is nearly 40 inches below normal for seasonal snowfall. It is fair to say this is not the consistency the ski industry would like to see here in Western New York!

There are many Ingredients for determining the severity of a winter season. But an important factor is the ability to predict the position of the upper level winds or the long wave pattern. The so-called jet stream can be a great indicator of where the coldest air will be located in the northern hemisphere. This, in conjunction with average position of the storm track, can go a long way determining the extent of the winter season. Of course the ‘wild card’ in any winter season is determining the likelihood of localized lake effect snow. Lake effect snow squalls that move back and forth like the windshield wipers on your car osculate across Western New York significantly boost snow totals. It is estimated that half of our annual snowfall in Rochester is deposited just by the lake effect snow-making machine. It is amazing to think that without the Great Lakes, on average, we would have half the amount of snow we usually have in a given season!

So where does this leave us for this upcoming season? Well, we know there is a direct correlation between the severity of a winter season and the sea surface temperatures in the Equatorial water of the Pacific Ocean. El Niño is the warming phase and La Niño is the cooling phase. Many computer models show a weak La Niña continuing this winter season. If that is correct (and that is a big question) it is likely that Rochester would measure an average temperature season, but could see a snowier than normal winter. As you can see that is a broad brush outlook for December, January, February and early March. However, the devil is in the details. Still to be answered is the variation in temperature and snowfall over the course of the season. Fine tuning and adjustments to the long range forecast is inevitable.

Maybe you think you can make a better prediction for snowfall. Now is your chance! It is time for the 13 WHAM December Snowfall Contest.

Join the Rochester community by forecasting the total snowfall in Rochester for the month of December. Your prediction should be made to a tenth of an inch and the winner will be determined by the official measurement at the Rochester Airport. Predictions must be made by November 30th for the chance to win a new set of Nokia snow tires from Tire World.

To make your prediction click on this link. And good luck!

Here are the predictions for December snowfall from our 13 WHAM Weather Team:

  • Glenn: 25.0"
  • Mark: 15.1"
  • Scott: 30.5"
  • Marty: 19.5"


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