Fort Worth

Hoping for lot of snow and ice this winter? Hang your hopes on El Nino

In February 2010, a record-breaking 12.5 inches of snow fell at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

It was the greatest single 24-hour snowfall in DFW’s history. Haslet saw an even higher total with a jaw-dropping 14.4 inches covering the ground.

The weight from the heavy snow downed trees and made travel difficult across parts of the area.

Earlier that same winter, near-blizzard conditions were reported as 6 to 9 inches of snow fell from Graham to Bowie northwest of Fort Worth on Dec. 24, 2009.

All of these events occurred during an El Niño winter and another is forecast this year. Typically El Niño winters bring wetter conditions to Texas but the weather phenomenon isn’t a strong predictor of ice and snow. Meteorological winter starts on Dec. 1.

Another big influence on those wintry conditions — the North Atlantic Oscillation — can only be accurately predicted about two weeks out, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Huckaby.

North Atlantic Oscillation
The Icelandic low and Bermuda/Azores high are a persistent pattern in the North Atlantic. When these features are stronger than normal, the North Atlantic Oscillation is positive. When they are weaker than normal, it is negative. The oscillation is weather pattern not only impacts the weather across Europe but also across North America. NOAA

When the oscillation, also known as the NAO, is considered to be in a positive phase, cold air tends to stay across the northern half of the U.S..

When it flips into a negative phase, cold air can plunge south into Texas and the southern U.S. In El Niño winters, there is often enough precipitation to cause snow or ice.

The oscillation has been in the negative phase recently but appears to be shifting back to the positive.

“The NAO has actually gone negative recently, which may explain the amplified flow across North America and the chilly start to the season,” Huckaby said.

A strong cold front will move into the area early next week bringing below normal temperatures but it’s no Arctic blast. Low temperatures will be in the 30s and highs in the upper 40s or low 50s.

If you want a different outlook, the Old Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a milder and drier winter for Texas but the publication, which was founded in 1792, says the best chances for snow are in mid- and late December, early January, and mid-February.

Whether you’re looking at the weather service forecasts or the almanac, nothing is that simple about forecasting frozen precipitation in Texas.

The 2010-2011 winter, Huckaby said, was warm and dry except for the first week of February when ice paralyzed the area. That became known as the Super Bowl ice storm.

“Many remember that as a bad winter just because of that event,” Huckaby said.

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Bill Hanna is an award-winning reporter who has covered just about every beat at the Star-Telegram. He currently covers Arlington but also writes about a variety of subjects including weather, wildlife, traffic and health.