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Winter Prediction 2018-19: How Accurate Was Our Weather Forecast?

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Winter Prediction 2018-19: How Accurate Was Our Weather Forecast?

Every year, right before we launch our newest weather forecast for the winter ahead, we like to “rewind” and take a look back at last year. Our winter prediction for 2018-19 brought about a lot of attention and controversy. In our long-range outlook, which we released in August 2018, we called for “teeth-chattering cold and unusually snowy and/or wet conditions across the Pacific Northwest, Northeast, and Mid-Atlantic States.” We forewarned that the coldest temperatures of the season would arrive in mid-February for zones 1, 2, and 3, and predicted a stormier-than-normal March, which would push snow totals to above normal for the northern/central Rockies and Plains.

We predicted a “teeth-chattering cold” winter for 2018-19

So what happened? Here are some winter 2018-19 highlights:

  • A late January Arctic blast resulted in Chicago having subzero temperatures for 52 straight hours. No all-time records were broken in the Windy City, but the low temperature of -23°F was close to breaking the all-time record of -27°F. On January 29th, Chicago’s wind chill dipped to -52°F! That’s some teeth-chattering cold!
  • On January 31st, 2019, the all-time coldest record for Illinois was reported in Mt. Carroll at -38°F.
  • February kicked off on a frigid note from Minnesota and Wisconsin east through the Great Lakes into upstate New York and across to New England. High temperatures were as much as 30°F colder than normal, and low temperatures were subzero or in the single digits for most areas. Strong winds created dangerously low wind chills, causing some schools to close.
  • For the first time on record, Los Angeles went an entire February without once hitting 70°F. And the City of Angels registered this past February as its coldest month since 1962, with temperatures averaging about 5 degrees colder than normal.
  • And the month of February across the contiguous U.S. averaged nearly 2°F below normal, ranking it in the coldest top third in 125 years of record keeping.

Snowfall?

  • Caribou, Maine, had its snowiest January ever, with 59.8 inches, and 165 had its snowiest January ever, with 59.8 inches, and 165 inches total for the winter months!
  • Record snowfall and cold temperatures were reported from Washington State to Wisconsin in February. Eau Claire, Wisconsin, set a record for all-time snowiest month with 53.7 inches.
  • Sea-Tac Airport (Seattle) saw its snowiest February (20.2 inches) since record-keeping first began in 1945.
  • On February 20th, the first measurable snowfall (½ inch) in more than a decade fell in Las Vegas, Nevada. And the very next day, a total of 35.9 inches of snow was measured at Pulliam Airport (just south of Flagstaff, Arizona)—a new 1-day record.
  • Omaha, Nebraska, saw its all-time snowiest winter with 46.1 inches.

Statistically Speaking

Sounds like a pretty accurate forecast, doesn’t it? You may be surprised to learn that climatologists have indicated that winter 2018-19 turned out to be slightly warmer (1.2°F) than normal, statistically speaking.

The reason? Taking into account the 90-day interval from December 1st to February 28th (defined as “meteorological winter”), the mean temperature was 33.4°F or 1.2°F above average. Yet, the last week of January through February, and into early March, temperatures averaged more than 2°F below normal nationwide. But overall, January was 2.6°F above normal, and December was 2.9°F above normal.

However, we would contend that the overall 1.2°F above-normal winter temperature was of little solace to the folks in the southeast U.S. who were digging out of their big pre-Christmas snowfall, or the folks around the Great Lakes and Plains who were enduring hours of subzero temperatures and life-threatening wind chills in late January!

What’s in Store for Winter 2019-20?

Our winter weather outlook is out! Take a look at what we’re predicting!

For a complete look back, turn to pages 138-139 of the 2020 Farmers’ Almanac.

2020 Farmers' Almanac


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4 comments

1 willyjhopuky { 10.18.19 at 7:01 am }

how will the weather be in kentucky this winter?

2 Charles B Clemons { 09.22.19 at 5:57 pm }

What’s going happen in nc.

3 Susan Higgins { 08.22.19 at 12:23 pm }

Hi Keith, Caleb says, “Last year’s forecast, which we released in August 2018, we called for ‘teeth-chattering cold and unusually snowy and/or wet conditions across the Pacific Northwest, Northeast, and Mid-Atlantic States.’ The Mid-Atlantic got its fair share of the snowy and wet conditions, with the first significant snows of the year on 1/13, followed by Winter Storm Patra on 1/20–the same system that brought snow to Las Vegas also dumped a fair amount of snow and ice on Maryland. In February, we called for snow for the Presidents Day holiday in Zone 1, and sure enough, this happened in MD: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poBssi0537A&t=10s.
All in all, the snowfall totals for last season in Maryland were 18.3 (January = 7.8, Feb = 6.1, and March = 2.7). Certainly not as bad as some years.”

4 Keith Krichinsky { 08.21.19 at 9:18 am }

As a Marylander, I would like to know how Caleb did with forecasts in the Mid-Atlantic. This area seems to have been omitted. Thanks.

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