Computer models project stormy winter in D.C. That helps snow chances. newsbhunt


It’s around 80 degrees in Washington but, with much colder air set to arrive next week, it’s not too soon to talk about winter.

A building El Niño event is set to deliver considerably more winter-weather potential compared with last year in the Washington region. A mere 0.4 inches of snow fell, and it was abnormally mild.

El Niño is known for snowy winters in the Mid-Atlantic. Recall that the El Niño winter of 2009-2010 was the snowiest season on record in Washington. But El Niños can also be crushing for snow lovers. Sometimes they bring in too much warm air; it’s not a coincidence that Washington’s two least snowy winters (1972-1973 and 1997-1998) occurred during El Niños.

What does El Niño mean for D.C. cold and snow this winter?

This winter’s El Niño is poised to be on the strong side, increasing uncertainty about the winter outlook. A strong El Niño probably means plenty of storminess, but temperatures are more of a wild card. And temperatures are often the difference between rain and snow in the Mid-Atlantic’s mild climate.

Let’s look at what computer models say about our winter prospects.

Models generally lean toward a wetter-than-normal winter. They project the most precipitation during December and January and lean more gently toward wetter-than-normal conditions in February and March.

As for temperatures — which can make the difference between rain and snow — models lean toward warmer-than-normal conditions during December and January, but not super warm. But they favor normal to slightly below-normal temperatures in February.

Considering that February is Washington’s snowiest month on average and that the models project slightly above-normal precipitation at this time, odds seem to tilt toward decent snow potential.

What’s typical during strong El Niños?

What the models are projecting is pretty characteristic of past conditions during strong El Niño winters in Washington.

In past events, temperatures have averaged much above normal during December, although that’s heavily influenced by 2015, which was the warmest December on record by a large margin. January and February featured slightly to somewhat below-normal temperatures.

Matt Rogers, president of the Commodity Weather Group, which specializes in long-range forecasts, thinks this winter will probably follow the pattern of the past. “Our best thinking right now is a more traditional El Niño-ish response of a warm-starting, cold-finishing winter,” he said.

Here’s what winter weather the U.S. can expect

As far as precipitation, strong El Niños have offered near-normal amounts in December, January and March, and above-normal amounts in February.

Snow amounts have varied wildly. In the table below, we include snow amounts during both strong and moderate El Niños, as there is some possibility that this year’s El Niño will end up more moderate than strong. Moderate El Niños bring colder temperatures and more snow than strong El Niños, on average.

A strong El Niño reduces but does not eliminate that chance of heavy snow. Recall that the historically strong El Nino in 2015-2016 still delivered a historic snowstorm in January.

You can’t get snow without storms. Both past El Niño events and projections for this one suggest there should be plenty of storminess this winter. Although temperatures remain a wild card, the playing field could be set up far worse for area snow lovers.


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