Is D.C. headed for another 'Snowmageddon'? Winter weather outlook with Capital Weather Gang's Matt Ross

Nov 04, 2010

Capital Weather Gang seasonal forecaster Matt Ross will be online Thursday, Nov. 4, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the winter weather outlook for the metro area.

Capital Weather Gang Blog

After last year winter's historic snows, there is both excitement and dread as the new winter approaches, depending on one's perspective. Snow lovers would like nothing more than a repeat of Snowpocalypse, Snowmageddon, and Snoverkill. And there are certainly those (the silent majority?) who would like as little of the white stuff as possible. As long as both groups keep their expectations reasonable, we think this winter will have something for everyone.

Hi, I am Matt Ross, and I was lead author for Capital Weather Gang's Winter Outlook released today.  We don't expect anything like the historic winter last year, but this winter should provide plenty of drama. 

Please, please, please tell me there's at least some chance for another winter filled with snow. The last four or five years before that there was almost none!! I really want more snow!

There is a slight chance, but it is extremely unlikely we will get a repeat of last winter.  However, it should be snowier than the winters of 2006-2009.

What is the 2010-2011 Farmers Almanac prediction?

I believe cold and snowy, but I wouldn't give it much credence.

Matt-- Any chance of a Snowmageddon for me in Paris this year?

Ha.  I am really not that well versed on European weather.  I do know Paris gets occasional decent snowfalls, so good luck!

Matt - how do you expect the prospects for the NY/NJ area to be this winter?Hoping for a lot less snow, even if the temps dip hard.

La Nina's tend to be better with respect to normal at higher latitudes.  I think you probably are near or slightly above normal snow this winter.  Nothing like last winter in NYC metro.

How many snowstorms are you predicting will hit the D.C. area? Are areas to the southeast and northwest more prone to receive larger amounts of snow than the other areas?

I think we see 5-6 snow events.  Several of those could mix with rain/sleet and possibly change over to all rain.

I think North is key this winter.  The farther north the better.  But the exact storm tracks are hard to predict this far out.

Ok, so in 2010 we had the most snow on record and the hottest summer on record for this area, right? Am I crazy in thinking the weather has been getting progressively more extreme over the past 20 years or so? Also, is it El Nino or La Nina that caused this? What's the water temp in the Pacific now and what's in store for the winter if the pattern holds?

I think you are correct that we are seeing bigger winter storms with more frequency.  Last winter El Nino was a major factor but not the only one.  We are in a La Nina this winter which are not typically good for big snows here, but other factors might override or mitigate it.

"That was in a once-in-a-generation kind of winter." That may be true, but I've lived in D.C. since 1982 and it seems to me that we have a fairly major snowstorm every 5-7 years. And yet, we never seem to be prepared for that possibility.

That is true.  But we had 3 of them last winter.  That is what made it so special.

Be honest, how many storms and how much snow did you think would happen 2009/2010 this time last year?

At Capital Weather Gang we went for above average snow, but nothing like what we saw.  Here in DC we had "only" 7 snow events of over an inch, but as you know 4 of them were over 6" and 2 of them well over a foot.  It wasn't the number of storms that was impressive, rather the size of them.

Hi  Matt, will those of us west of the Blue Ridge eek out a few bonus inches, or is that still far too east to be in a La Nina winter?

Depends how far west, but west of the Blue Ridge is not a bad place to be.  I imagine there could be several storm tracks that keep you wintry while we are dry or rainy.

In case you haven't read it yet, here is a link to our winter outlook.

Is it possible that the NAO becomes very negative and in turn really messes up this forecast.

It is possible, but even with a really negative NAO, a formidable La Nina won't really be of much help in providing moisture to work with from the south and west.  It could just mean periods of cold and dry.

Capital Weather Gang 2010-11 winter outlook

Will this winter be real cold or mild?

Slightly warmer than normal, but highly variable. 

So what's the weather in Pittsburgh look like this winter? Should we count on cold temps for the Caps/Pens game on January 1?

Normal temps I would think.  Pittsburgh is in an interesting spot and could see a lot of mixed events that are hard to forecast.  There should be a decent number of arctic blasts that give you guys good lake effect.  For fun, I'll say cloudy with flurries and a high of 31 on New Years Day.

It already seems to be getting colder earlier than normal. Chances of a good snow before the end of year?

We are predicting a colder than normal December, and I do think we see a snow event before the end of the year.  I have no idea how big, and chances of a White Christmas are low here normally, but I'd say we have a better chance than usual of having one.

And how do they compare to average? Why is National still used to measure when it seems like they get less snow due to the river?

Last winter we generally did 350-400% of average snowfall.  All 3 airports set records for seasonal snowfall.   Agreed about DCA.  They don't really represent the area very well.  Unfortunately the FAA is in charge of measuring snow, so official sites are usually airports.  Fortunately we have IAD and BWI to balnce it out.

What is the difference between El Nino and La Nina?

El Nino, sea surface temperatures along the Equator in the Pacific Ocean are warmer than normal and La Nina they are colder than normal.  We are in a La Nina, which are typically not great for snow lovers here, but there are other factors at play that should help mitigate its influence.

Can't really get any chillier in D.C. than it already is between Shanahan and McNabb, right?

I am an Eagles fan, so I will just say "I told you so"....Frankly I thought he would do a little better

How is it possible to predict how an entire winter is going to be with any kind of accuracy? It's like when you hear that it's going to be a mild or severe hurricane season - half the time it's the opposite.

Agreed.  It is a low confidence outlook.  Especially when you get into specifics.  But when you put a number of indicators together, you can often but not always get a decent broadbrushed idea of what winter will be like.  But, yes, nailing specifics is hard from this far out.

Do we have more acid rain/snow and other junk in our snow than the rest of the U.S.? It certainly seems to freak people out a lot. What gives? Because of the acid, does our snow melt faster?

I don't know.  Just don't eat the yellow snow and you should be fine.  I will say, I don't like when the snow becomes black after a few days. 

I know it would be extremely difficult to give any specifics this far out, but do you foresee that area schools may have to give snow days? I'm thinking specifically inside the beltway where the districts have generally been more reluctant to call school for snow. (I ask, because as a teacher, I really DON'T want a repeat of last year!)

I don't foresee a lot of snow days.  A lot of course depends on timing.  But ARL/ALEX/DC will usually be open or just a delay for 1-3" events and I think most events this winter will be in that range.

Given all the dead stuff in my yard, seems like the summer was dryer and hotter than normal. Are we back to where we should be rain wise with all the recent rain?

We are still slightly below normal, but nothing unusual or that would indicate drought conditions.

Do we know enough about LaNina that permits accurate/reliable weather forecasting?

Not all La Nina's behave the same, especially since there are other global factors at play.  But when you look at them as a whole, there are distinct tendencies.  So in a general sense, yes I do think we know enough.  It is just hard to get specific with good accuracy.  Especially since we are often in a transition zone between warm and cold air masses.  Places like Portland/Seattle(colder than normal) or Atlanta/Jacksonville(warmer than normal) are easier to forecast for in a La Nina.  Us not so much.

Eagles fan? Well as long as you don't like the Phillies I will still trust your winter prognostications.

They lost...Why do you have to bring that up;)

I do think the huge contract to Ryan Howard could backfire.  Strikes out way too much.  Hopefully we don't strike out too many times this winter.  But there are always going to be forecasted events that simply bust.

Even last winter we went weeks without snow....Keep in mind that 5-6 events is the most likely scenario which means there will be 2/3/4 week stretches with no snow.  Unfortunately we still live in DC even though we behaved like Portland Maine last winter.

I'll stick around for another 15-20 minutes if there are more questions.  So, query away!

Any idea yet if the rain from that late season hurricane is going to make it up this way?

I haven't been paying much attention, but I think Tomas stays well to our east.

What impact will the Indonesian volcano have on our weather (in any)?

I don't think much.  Pinatubo in 1991 certainly had a major effect, but I do not think this is on the same scale. 

Hard to predict with any confidence, but we have had some good March storms in La Nina winters.  March 1-2, 2009, March 9, 1999.  So don't give up if February is warm and snowless.  Some people don't like late season events, but I will take whatever snow I can get.

Thanks for all the great questions this afternoon.  It is hard to follow last winter, but be patient and I think this winter will deliver.  For those of you who hate snow.  Most will be just nuisance events.  I don't see a lot of disruption of everyday activity.  No need to stock up on milk and toilet paper just yet. 

Take care everyone and enjoy the snow we do get!

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Matt Ross
Matt Ross is a seasonal forecaster for the Capital Weather Gang.
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