ST. LOUIS - Climate scientists get a little edgy when you ask them about specific events like a white Christmas or even if December will be colder than February. And those are the things you want to know, right? I’ve been forecasting weather here in St. Louis for 30 years, so I’ve seen some things, some patterns. So, I guess it’s time for me to take a stab at this inexact science thing we call weather prediction. Ladies and gentlemen: the winter forecast.
Here’s how I’m going to do this...I’m going to tell you what I’ve read about the setups for this winter. I’m going to use some analog years that compare favorably to what we’ve seen over the last few months. And I’m going to talk about farmers and fish. But first, some common sense.
Our last two winters have been pretty easy. Last year, we only had 5.5 inches of snow all winter. The year before? 1.4 inches. The law of averages says we are going to get more snow this winter. Even if we get normal winter snow, it adds up to 17 or 18 inches which will seem like a big winter for snow.
The way the pattern has set up this Fall, it's similar to the years 2002, 2006, and 2009. So, when we look at those years, especially 02 and 09, we get some answers. A warm September, then a cool October. This November chill was also part of 02 and 09. What happened in December of those years? More cold...bigger cold. And more dry time too. Look for December to be colder than normal and not a lot of precipitation, meaning not a lot of snow.
Now a White Christmas only happens in St. Louis once in a while. In fact, snow on the ground on Christmas morning has only happened 39 times since 1893. The actual climatological percentage is 20%, so the chances are low for a white Christmas. Could a freak storm build and give us snow? Sure, it did last year. But the odds are low. So, a betting person would say "NO" for a White Christmas.
One thing you can count on in January: the ol’ January thaw. It warms, you get your hopes up that winter is over, then suddenly it’s not. The first two weeks in January are climatologically the coldest of the year with average highs during that time in the upper 30s. Look for a reprieve from the cold, then a big drop in temps. Snow chances in January look a little better than December. We could see 3-4 snows, one of which could start as rain or freezing rain.
February is the shortest month, but it seems like the longest month. Generally, it’s a cloudy month and after a long winter, it feels like a month of Tuesdays. There’s an old unproven rule that October sets up December, and December sets up February. I think that’s true this year temperature wise. February will be the cold month this winter and colder than normal. I think snow chances will amp up a bit too, more than December for sure. That’s what happened in our analog year of 2002.
There are more clues to this winter in St. Louis and the Bi-State, but you have to expand your reach and look to nature.
There’s a story I heard about the manager of a bait shop in central Missouri. He claims it’s going to be a very cold winter because the fish are fat. That`s right: he has been seeing the fish catch over the last couple of months and he says the fish are fatter than normal, meaning that they are storing up fat for the winter. We've gotten the same clues from Wooly Worms... a cold winter.
And what the heck, why not touch on the Farmer’s Almanac? Unscientific, sure. In fact, they won't even divulge how they make their forecasts months in advance. But it’s fun and you can even learn how to pickle beets in this book.
So, what does the Farmer’s Almanac have to say about winter? It’s going to be cold and it's going to snow. So there you go, the final word. No matter what happens, know that you have a team of meteorologists...and really a whole building of people... who are dedicated to keeping you safe this winter... to help you weather any storm.