It’s the question on our cold, cracked lips: After the recent icy beat-down, how bad is winter going to be?
Meteorologists, always a cautious bunch, are loath to make predictions more than 10 days to two weeks out. About all you can squeeze out of the winter forecast from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center is that drought is likely to persist across Texas and the rest of the Southwest.
Without a strong influence from El Niño or La Niña, winter in the U.S. is less predictable, it says.
Which leaves us with what, La Nada?
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“We have a little bit more than nada, but not much, when it comes to forecasting for more than two weeks out,” laughs Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for Weather Underground. “What happens in any one week of winter isn’t necessarily a harbinger of what is going to happen the rest of winter.
“In fact, when I look at the long-range forecast for the next couple of weeks, you are going to have warmer-than-normal temperatures. The long-range forecast from NOAA over the next three months calls for pretty much equal chances for below- or above-average temperatures in Texas,” Masters said.
But the venerable Farmers’ Almanac, which doesn’t bother itself with meteorological buzzwords like jet stream, will jump right out on a frozen limb.
“It’s going to be a frosty and unusually wet winter in your neck of the woods,” said Sandi Duncan, managing editor of the almanac, which bases its forecasts on an astrological and mathematical formula that considers sunspot activity, the tidal action of the moon and the position of planets.
“It’s been around since 1818 with some slight changes. The true formula is only know by one person,” Duncan said.
The almanac takes long-term forecasting to the upper stratosphere: It made this year’s prediction in 2012.
“People that follow our forecasts say we’re about 80 percent accurate. I think in this day where you can get weather 24 hours a day, there’s still a need for someone to go further out to give an idea of what may come this winter or spring,” Duncan said.
The secret formula says to expect stormy conditions for Christmas in North Texas.
“Then we’re calling for frosty conditions in January and February. Unfortunately, it also looks like March is going to be stormy in your region,” Duncan said.
The rival Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts that the North Texas winter will be slightly colder than normal and that April and May will be slightly warmer and wetter than normal.
Paul Pastelok, senior meteorologist for AccuWeather, believes that North Texas is in for a “rough winter.”
“I think this is going to be your best winter in a while for cold and precipitation,” he said.
Pastelok expects temperatures to be 10 to 12 degrees above normal this week before another weekend cold shot that could include ice or snow.
“It may not be the depth of this last storm but it means the overall month of December is going to be about 4 degrees below normal and that’s significant,” he said.
“Sixty-one percent of the country has some sort of snowpack right now. Last year at this time, we were around 30 percent, and that’s contributing to the cold,” Pastelok said.
“Heating bills are going to go through the roof,” he said.
One thing meteorologists agree on is that the icy blast was out of the ordinary.
“It was highly unusual to have the jet stream dip that far south,” Masters said. “The compensating push of warm air was extraordinary, too. They were getting rain last Sunday on the north coast of Alaska, which has never happened before in December.”
Tom Bradshaw, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service’s Fort Worth office, said the storm, while early, wasn’t unprecedented.
“Coming on the heels of the near miss we had the week before, that doesn’t happen every year. That’s something that happens every five years or so,” he said.
“We tend to have short memories here in North Texas. We do get winter weather.”
And there have been much, much worse December deep freezes.
From Dec. 18 to Dec. 30, 1983, the mercury didn’t top 32 degrees for 295 hours, the longest below-freezing stretch on record in North Texas.
The most freezes in a calendar year (64) came in 1978. In 1898-99, there were freezes every month from October to April, including the reigning champ of record lows, 8 below zero, set on Feb. 12, 1899.
The fewest freezes in a season (14) came in 2011-12. The flip side of that was the record 71 100-degree days in 2011.
Speaking of summer, the Farmers’ Almanac is also going out on a limb with its prediction for our next sizzling season: typical heat.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac says it will be hotter and slightly drier than normal.
So enjoy the weather while you can.