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Good Question: What Happened To The Winter Forecast?

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(credit: CBS) Liz Collin
At 15 years old, Liz Collin made her broadcast debut covering...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The predictions all pointed to a snowy and cold winter. So far, it’s been anything but.

While there may be snow on the ground right now, it won’t be around for too long. And this got Mary Weekley wondering: How far ahead can predictions be made and how can the current one be so far off?

Both are Good Questions.

Joe Calderone, a senior forecaster with the National Weather Service, points out three factors at play: (1) surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean, which were predicted to be below normal and ended up coming up; (2) a weakening La Nina trend; and (3) the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), which can change from week to week.

“The NAO has always been a wild card, and in the climate forecast, it’s happened to play a major wild card … this winter,” Calderone said.

WCCO chief meteorologist Chris Shaffer said the winter forecast has seen a big change from a few months ago.

“Looking ahead to January, they’ve now adjusted and your starting to see long-term forecasts that more resemble what we have with milder temperatures and equal precipitation,” Shaffer said.

Shaffer and the other weather experts say it’s not out of the question for outlooks to take an unexpected turn mid-season.

“The 6 to 10 and 18-day forecasts are pretty reliable,” Calderone said. “It’s relatible to the 7 day forecasts that we had 10 years ago.”

While there are reliable forecasts in place for six months out, the weather can certainly stray from trends and patterns.

Shaffer said this winter is similar to 2006. There wasn’t measurable snow depth that winter until late February or early March. He also said we have to remember that there are still a few months to go and that it’s hard to stay in one weather pattern all winter.

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