Holly and Mike from Stillwater wrote in to ask: “Have we ever had a winter where we get almost no snow or is it only a matter of time until we get clobbered?”
The top 10 least snowy winters in the metro area have all had between 14″ and 22″ of snow, which isn’t that much. We’re currently at 8.6″ in the metro, but I don’t think we’re destined to be one of the least-snowy seasons on record.
The global weather pattern we’re in (La Nina) is characterized by these large swings in the jet stream pattern, allowing for periods of much-above average temps, and periods of much-below average temps.
History says that, in the vast majority of La Nina winters, we’ll end up below average temperature-wise.
We really haven’t seen any big swings to the cold side of things yet this year, but those are often preceded by massive snow dumps. It’s possible (and, in this pattern, even likely) that most of our snow would come in these mega storms, with possibly below average snowfall between them.
That’s what we saw last December, and for the rest of the winter. After that incredible start in Dec. 2011, snowfall wasn’t outrageous.
I’m going to continue to play the percentages, which all say that we’ll end up making up ground this winter, but nothing is ever a sure bet in my field!
The “wildcard” this year (as it is every year) is something called the Arctic Oscillation (AO). When the AO is in its positive phase (as it has been for the past several weeks) the cold, arctic air is locked up well to our north, through central & northern Canada. When the AO phase becomes negative, much of the U.S. will get a blast of cold from the North Pole.
Of course, we need cold air to be present to make the snow that many people are craving and, so far this year, it just hasn’t been here. The AO can offset La Nina’s effects to a certain degree but, while La Nina is predictable from season to season, the AO is nearly impossible to predict more than a few weeks in advance.
It’s looking like the AO is evolving to a more negative/colder phase right now, but we’ll have to see how long that sticks around.