Dave Murray’s 2012-2013 Long-Range Winter Forecast
The Fall 2012 weather pattern has been rather typical for the St. Louis area, a warm September then roller-coaster temperatures the rest of the time. The region is still struggling with the summer drought but things have improved a little bit. Fall has been doing what it is supposed to do, getting us ready for the winter season. Winter is always the toughest season to forecast, both short term and long term. There is always an extra challenge and always a lot more interest.
This will be an El Niño winter with warm waters in the Pacific Ocean. That will be very different from last winter. But it’s a very weak pattern and as we go through the winter it will quickly break-down. That is a problem for my winter forecast. Weak and fading El Niños can create some wild storm systems and big swings in temperature.
I do think that December will be under the grip of that weak El Niño. Temperatures will be on the cold side, nothing super extreme with the numbers averaging near to a little bit below average for the month. The heater will get a little work out. I don't see any record lows and I don't see anything below zero in December. Both of those, though not impossible, are tough to happen. When I say that, I always remember the December of 1989 when we had some of the coldest temperature ever for winter in St. Louis
As for moisture, the easing of the drought will continue but it’s a long slow process. The storm track will have some interesting looks including an active storm track from the northern track, or the Alberta Clipper track. I see two systems like that, one early and one mid to late month. They would tend to be snow makers, but not big snow makers. Also, the southern storm track will be active with 1 to 2 southern storms. They typically bring rain, but depending on the phasing of cold air they can end with accumulating snows. When the month is done, moisture, rain and snow will be average and snowfall will be near to a touch above average.
In the forecast for the month of December, I like to go a little further out on a limb and look at Christmas: will it be white or green? We have had a great track record with this pin-point forecast but this is a tough call this year. I do think we will have some snow on the ground leading up to the Christmas holiday but it doesn’t look like snow on Christmas Day. But there should be some snow on the ground.
Things to look for in the month of December:
- Great horned owls begin courting
- Check out the sky, it is easy to spot the winter constellation Orion
- The bald eagles start to arrive in good numbers
Major Points For December:
- Expect some pretty impressive temperature swings. A few solid cold shots but also some not so cold swings too
- Dealing with an active storm track with swings between rain and snow. Some ice too.
- Looks like a dry Christmas but I’m thinking snow will be on the ground
January is one of the toughest months to get through in St. Louis. The holidays are over. The days are short. The nights are long. It is also a month that can bring some hard core winter weather, wind, ice, rain and snow. But Mother Nature will sometimes toss a bone our way and bring us January thaw. Think of it as a mid-winter's break. But with or without the thaw, January is the prime month for cabin fever.
This January could be a mess for the short and the long-term forecast. The weak El Niño pattern gets weaker and should show some solid signs of fading away. What makes the forecasting tough is that there may not be a pattern. There could be hints of El Niño storms at time. At other times, more of a typical winter pattern will emerge. So I’m thinking we will see a wild variety of temperatures. There will be plenty of cold air, at times very cold, but no records. Other times it will seem like the back of winter has been broken. And the January Thaw, a stretch of well above average temperatures for a few days, will take place with the focus on the third week of the month. With the see-saw temps, we should average near to a little bit above average for the month. It will be a month where we can get outside for some winter fun. But if you don't like that, there will also be a few cold temperature breaks from time to time.
The roller coaster temperatures will come with big swings in the storm track. Let’s look for 2 southern storms and 2 pushes from the northern storm track, the clipper systems. Each with a variety of moisture: rain, ice and snow. Overall moisture will be a touch above average but I think snowfall will be a little below average. The temperature swings favor rain more than snow. That will cause some fits when it comes to the real-time forecasting as we get into the month. It will be a month to really watch the weather
Things to look for in the month of January:
- Check out the red-tailed hawks perched along highways. They are looking for food
- Watch for chickadees feeding up and down trees
- Beavers begin breeding this month
Major Points For January
- Look for some wild temperature swings, a fair share of cold but also some mild temps
- There will be a January Thaw the third week of the month.
- Rain will be above average and snow will be below average
In February we start to think about Spring. Maybe you even start planning your garden. But its typically a month that will beat those warm thoughts out of our minds very quickly. It’s a month that can bring some brutal cold and typically our heaviest snows of the season.
By this point in the winter season, the weak El Niño pattern should be gone and this month will take on more of a typical winter look and feel. The flow from the north will be wide open from the Midwest to the east coast. We will be on the edge of several impressive shots of cold air, the coldest hanging to our east but a little too close for comfort. Any surges in mild air will be limited. February looks like it will be a little hard to take and the heating systems and heating costs will be working overtime. Thinking temperatures will average below to well below average.
With the colder flow in place, I will be leaning more toward snow than rain. The northern track dominates more than the southern track, but the northern track storms can be a little moisture starved at times. Many times, Gulf of Mexico moisture doesn’t match up with the cold air dropping in from the north. So I see a shot at 3 to 4 weather events, each with a shot at light to maybe moderate snow. Rain will be below average and snowfall near average. Keep those shovels handy.
Things to look for in the month of February
- The red flowers of the silver maples swell with the first warm spell
- The chickadees begin to sing. They are so small but easily heard
- Look for the robins returning in large flocks
Major points for February:
- Looks like a pure winter's month with plenty of cold air in place. Mild breaks will be hard to find.
- The northern track is alive and well. Look for limited southern action
- Below average rainfall and near average snowfall
Winter 2012-2013 Summary:
So let’s sum-up this next winter season. Do not expect the mild, almost non-winter of last year. This winter will be very different. It is not super extreme, but expect more cold and more snow. The extreme cold will be over the Great Lakes, the Ohio Valley and the Northeast. We walk the thin line of some impressive Canadian cold shots. It’s not a huge snow year but enough to keep forecasting a challenge and the snowplows busy. Plus don't forget, March can be very cold and very snowy. Some of our biggest snows of the season have happened in March, but that’s for another long term forecast.