2017-2018 Winter Outlook

Some people LOVE winter, others are ‘meh’, while many others strongly dislike the season.  No matter your feelings about it, here in New England we have to deal with the snow and cold, but our winters quite often feature warm spells and rain.  To get an idea of what we should expect, here’s a brief look at what we could be in for this winter.

One of the biggest drivers of winter weather in North America is the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO).  ENSO is an ocean/atmosphere pattern originating in the Pacific.  The phases of this pattern can shape weather patterns around the globe including here in the United States.

ENSO data has been measured since 1950, so we have a good data set to look back upon; however, this phenomenon has been occurring for eons.

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We are currently in the La Nina stage of the ENSO, that’s when cooler-than-normal-water exists along the Pacific equator off South America.  Long range computer models indicate that this coming winter (December, January and February) is expected to have a weak La Nina in place.  Using this information, we can look back on previous winters when a weak La Nina was in place.  There are ten.  Those ten years and the how the numbers for Providence added up during those winters (December, January and February) are listed below.

Years with a Weak La Nina and the Winter Weather Data

The numbers in red indicate when that data was above average.  In summary, there were 4 years with above normal snowfall, 5 years warmer than average and 5 years with above average precipitation.

SIGNIFICANT AND MAJOR STORMS

No matter the overall weather pattern for a winter, we can still get significant storms.  In this analysis, we’ll use the arbitrary amount of 6″ of snow for a significant storm in Providence and 10″ as a major storm for the city.

Looking at the 10 winters with a weak La Nina, we counted how many times we had storms bringing 6″ or more of snow.  This was very interesting.  Of all the snow storms we had in the 30 months analyzed, we had 9 storms with 6″-10″ of snow.  Only three times were there storms with 10 inches or more, and two of those major storms occurred last year.

THE OUTLOOK

In summary, you’ll do some shoveling this year, but you’ll also need the umbrella.  There will be cold blasts but there will also be warm spells.   Whether we see a bunch of small storms or a couple of big storms is difficult to see right now, but the numbers indicate that we won’t have an insanely busy snow season.

An average winter (Dec-Feb) in Providence:

  • Snowfall average:  26.1″
  • Temperature average:  31.1°
  • Average rainfall:  11.75″

If a weak La Nina continues, this winter (December – February) will be pretty average.  The winter looks average.


There are other factors when it comes to winter storm forecasting, including weather patterns and water temperatures in the North Atlantic.  Those factors can affect individual storms differently and are better predicted on a week-to-week basis.  Chief Meteorologist Tony Petrarca will take a closer look at the other factors and will have more information on the winter weather outlook next week.  Be sure to tune in!

-Meteorologist T.J. Del Santo

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