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2012: The Weather So Far …

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2012: The Weather So Far …

“The Almanac maker predicts the weather, but another Maker makes the weather.”

Last winter, we were reminded on several occasions of the above axiom, penned many years ago by an anonymous source. Here at the Farmers’ Almanac, we take great pride in providing our readers with our annual long-range weather forecasts. While these prognostications are based on our time-tested “secret formula,” sometimes Mother Nature has a different scenario in mind.

This past winter (as much as we dislike admitting it) threw a knuckleball at our long-range outlook. Our long-range calculations forecast a winter of “clime and punishment,” with an active storm track bringing widespread and heavy doses of rain and snow to much of the country. They also called for above-normal temperatures to prevail over the southern and eastern U.S., with cold-to-very cold conditions for the Northern Plains and Northern Rockies into the western Great Lakes.

We did score a hit with the rather remarkable forecast for October 28-31, 2011. On October 29, 2011, a deepening storm system moved up the Eastern seaboard, interacted with an unusually chilly airmass, and snowflakes began to fall. It was a stormy period for the Northeast U.S., with copious rain and even snow over higher elevations and northern New England.

(Continued Below)

Our outlook of a balmy winter for the Southern and Eastern U.S. also worked out fairly well. For New England, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware, the winter of 2011—2012 ranked as either the second or third warmest winter in 117 years of available records. Massachusetts tied for its warmest February. It was the second warmest winter on record for Boston and New York; the fourth warmest for Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.

But there were other places that also experienced some exceptional warmth. For Montana, the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin, it was one of the top ten warmest winters. For the 48 contiguous states, last winter turned out to be the fourth warmest winter since national records began in 1895!

As for precipitation, it seemed that we were off to an early start with that late October nor’easter. Then there was a major winter storm that brought blizzard conditions to parts of the Southern Rockies and Central Plains on December 19th and 20th (which we also successfully forecast). And we earnestly expected that there would much more to come once we fully settled into winter. But when it was all over, twenty-four states actually recorded below-normal, even much below-normal, precipitation for the winter.

Only ten states–chiefly across the nation’s midsection–recorded above-normal winter precipitation (Kansas recorded their seventh wettest winter).

We did forecast a wet winter for Texas which did indeed occur and, in fact, helped alleviate their severe drought, shrinking the total area affected from 43.3% in early December to 14.8% by the end of February. Conversely, California experienced its second driest winter on record, and the lack of precipitation limited snowpack growth, which subsequently led to the development of a drought there.

Across the Rockies and Great Plains, the snow cover ranked as the third smallest on record. This was in spite of the fact that February 2nd—4th saw a very heavy snowstorm that blanketed Colorado and Nebraska. Denver set a new snowstorm record for February of 15.9 inches (a storm, by the way, that we also had forecast). Even the Pacific Northwest was belted by hefty snow: Seattle recorded a record-shattering 6.8 inches of snow and ice on January 18th.

And as “meteorological winter” (the coldest three-month interval–Dec., Jan., Feb.) came to an end, a spring-like storm spawned straight-line winds, golf ball-sized hail, torrential rain, and at least 39 tornadoes from Nebraska east into Kentucky and Tennessee on February 28th–29th, causing significant damage and 13 fatalities.

So in a nutshell, we did forecast three of the biggest storms of the fall and winter season and correctly anticipated temperature and precipitation anomalies for some sections of the country, but overall we didn’t fare quite as well as we would have liked.

Spring and Summer
As winter turned to spring, and then summer, the situation worsened, with boiling temperatures across much of the country, coupled with the most severe drought conditions the nation has seen in more than 50 years. More than 1,300 counties have been declared disaster areas due to the heat and lack of precipitation.

The 2012 Farmers’ Almanac called for hotter-than-normal temperatures across much of the country, and very dry conditions for a large swath of the mountain and prairie states. The outlook also accurately predicted a wetter, stormier August for most areas along the East Coast.

Oscillations and La Niña
So what was the cause of this atypical winter weather pattern? It was a most unusual configuration of the jet stream over North America, allowed by the phenomena known as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and the Arctic Oscillation (AO), climate patterns that reflect differences in sea-level air pressures across our planet.

And the pressure differences this past winter were incredibly large. The NAO had the most extreme difference ever recorded in December, and the second most extreme for the Arctic Oscillation (both indices were categorized as “positive”). This pulled warm air up from the Southwest U.S. into the Eastern U.S., rather than allowing the usual flow of cold air down from Canada. With the Arctic oscillation in a positive phase this last winter, virtually all of the frigidly cold polar air spilled into the Eurasian Continent and Alaska (where January saw record cold and snow).

Then there was La Niña. When we have a La Niña situation like we did during the winter of 2011—2012, the main branch of the polar jet tends to stay well north, while the southern branch moves across the desert Southwest, the Southern Plains and the lower Mississippi Valley, bringing warmer temperatures. So in a sense, the unusually mild winter was something the wind blew in. La Niña and her even more tempestuous brother, El Niño, are opposite phases of ocean surface temperature variations in the Pacific.

Unfortunately, while meteorologists can reasonably anticipate an impending La Niña or El Niño some weeks or even months in advance, the same can’t be said for the NAO or AO variations; and in truth we don’t yet know why these variations happen. And our climate models are still too crude to make skillful predictions on how human-caused climate change might be affecting them. Some scientists also think there are links between solar activity and the times of positive values, and between arctic sea ice loss and the negative values, though such possible correlations are not fully clear.

But regardless of what the NAO or AO is doing or whether it’s a La Niña or El Niño winter, one thing is a constant: We have and always will utilize our own “secret formula” to develop our long-range weather forecasts.

What’s in store for this winter ahead? Be sure to check our web site next week when we release or official outlook.

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1 christi { 12.02.12 at 7:23 pm }

ALASKA had the roughest recorded winter! We lived in anchorage and were pummelled with snow. This year we moved about thirty mins to the north and still dont have a flake! Anchorage has two inches. Im wondering if we will even have snow by Christmas!

2 Debra edge { 09.06.12 at 8:46 pm }

Weather in georgia has been hot and muggy and not alot of rain.

3 Chris { 09.03.12 at 1:03 am }

I don’t know what’s in store this winter we didn’t have a winter last year two years in a row had blizzards and this year not even two inches. I love love snow my wife hates it but for the farmers sake I hope we get it.

4 joelle kelly { 08.24.12 at 6:01 pm }

I live in Ontario up north , this summer was very hot and dry at the same time , we have had a lot of Rain come down for three days in a Row that has lifted the fire band thank god , My Husband come across Two large black wasp on the ground as well as several other people have also noticed them on the ground , but also have seen some about 8 feet high ,, Does anyone no what that mean , i heard that if they are down low it means no snow if high well cold and lots of snow to come ,, ??

5 Joyce { 08.23.12 at 2:23 pm }

Generally in the NW, your predictions are OK, but we need to research a little more into
other sources. Even our local weather 7-day forecast is seemingly more off than on.

6 Ed Button { 08.23.12 at 7:38 am }

Here in NE Pa. we are anticipating s “lil” colder winter after a very dry summer (only had to cut grass like every 3 weeks).
I just ordered the new almanac, hope there is good news for the “heating People” in our area.
I welcome any predictions for NE USA..

7 LBeck { 08.22.12 at 8:42 pm }

Yes indeed strange weather for us in Northern Maine last winter and this summer. To begin with your forecast was right on the spot for the late Oct. Noreaster we had a heavy wet snow and we thought winter was off to a bang. We had a small snow fall before Thanksgiving but the snow didn’t last… thought we wouldn’t have our traditional white Xmas but a small amount of snow fell again only to melt away by New Years. There were 3 melt offs by early Jan. Winter was late but once started we pretty much had our average cumulative snow here, around7-9 feet for the winter season but it was warmer with wet heavy snow you could hardly plow and mostly couldn’t snow blow for it was so wet! The March weather was just freaky warm, a complete snow melt off by mid month then “bam” back in the throes of winter!
We had our last snow I think around the first week of May. Spring was late and the month of June was cold and wet making me think we were in for a summer much like last…boy was I wrong, HOT & DRY were the course for the day. We have a saying around here,” don’t like the weather wait 15 minutes and it will change” not this year rain was sporadic when you consider it rains at least every other day here in the summer and at most once a day if not twice! Wondering what winter will bring, I have a feeling brutal cold with little snow!

8 Bob Shackelford { 08.22.12 at 4:49 pm }

Are we looking at major climate changes for the United States over the next several years.

9 Cari { 08.22.12 at 4:41 pm }

I live in the Panhandle of Texas. The drought lets up for a little bit, then hits again. We actually had a good rain storm that passed through Amarillo the other night. It helped some but we really need a lot more.

10 Ian McCloud { 08.22.12 at 2:00 pm }

Some people have been pulling our legs in believing that wind turbines act a giant fans in driving air currents or creating wind! God help this nation if so many people are truly this ignorant!

11 debbie { 08.22.12 at 12:58 pm }

I have never seen a drought as severe as the one we are having now ,I live in West Virginia and the tempertures here are more like what is in Texas and the south .and last winter i thought it was more like fall warm even wore shorts .But if we aew truely headed for a polar shift where will our poles be next if we surive it? i am inclined to agree with Dan it won’t matter much.

12 Dan F { 08.22.12 at 12:04 pm }

Almighty God, Mother Nature, Prime Creator or El are all the same thing. If in fact we are in for a polar shift you folks will soon be rethinking all of your weather prediction models if you are lucky enough to live at least 10 miles inland. If not, I sincerely doubt we’ll be hearing much if anything from you after this occurs.

13 Angele Downie { 08.22.12 at 11:05 am }

For couple years now I have been using the Farmers Almanac for our farming. Here, central Alberta, 2010 winter came exactly on the day they predicted & I missed spreading the hay seed & that is when I started following faithfully. 2011 spring I paid attention & we got it spread at the right time for it to work the best getting lots of hay that year. We just got our hay up with NO rain on it because of the almanac. Yes, I do pay attention myself to the weather & the almanac may be off but not as much as dead on.

14 Diana from CNY { 08.22.12 at 11:04 am }

Old weather lore from my grandad…”Open winter-drought in summer” (open winter is the lack of consistent snow cover), seems to have been right on target.

15 Robin { 08.22.12 at 10:50 am }

You really don’t think Wind Turbines are used to speed up wind currents , Do You ?
Wind Turbines Turn because the wind blows them LIKE the paddles in a fan, and then they inturn harness the power of the wind to create Electricity. . .

16 BBB { 08.22.12 at 9:32 am }

Yes, there is another Maker who controls the weather, and that Maker is not Mother Nature (there is NO Mother Nature), but that Maker is the Almighty God of the universe who created all things. He is the one in control.

17 C.A. { 08.22.12 at 9:29 am }

Wind turbines are rotated by the wind itself. They aren’t like giant fans that create air movement.

18 Lynda riley { 08.22.12 at 9:20 am }

how are the new wind turbines going to affect the weather pattern. They are speeding up the upper wind current in places aren’t they?

19 wodiej { 08.22.12 at 8:48 am }

as you said, “another maker makes the weather.” It would be extremely difficult to be right on target w all weather predictions. So many factors can change them quickly. I have seen days calling for no rain change to 90% in a matter of several hours because of weather patterns. In Indiana we had a very early and wet spring. But then in June and part of July it got extremely hot and dry and put a damper on my lawn business. Then in mid July, it began raining and has rained enough each week to keep the grass green. It also has been unusually cool for August, typically one of the hottest months of the year. In other words, it is just a prediction.

20 Christie { 08.20.12 at 7:59 am }

our spring was record warm, but the thing i dont get is how did we have our record warmest spring when April was near-below normal temps? late march things returned to typical, we had that early spring chills back and the snow was back then we had snow in april for crying out loud! and june was a bit cooler than normal in the east, in late July though, we had that 2 week long heat wave with temps consistent in the upper 90s-100s. we had a warm sunny spring but i dont get how it ranked record warmest! the good thing is that fall is just around the corner and mother nature will be ready to sit back and calm down she was a little crazy this year so she needs her rest like the rest of us do

21 Betty G. { 08.20.12 at 2:02 am }

In Virginia we had 2 snow events. One on February 20, 2012 when we had about 13 inches of snow that made very bad roads for days. Though, it was 40 degrees the day after so it melted rather quick. Then March came in like a lion and a system dumped several inches on the grounds on March 5th with temps a good 10 degrees below normal (for a day) but that snowstorm that was predicted on February 20-23 came out too!! not in new england but here it made travel a headache. That was the biggest snow weve seen since 2010, but we had an all time record high of 82 degrees a few days after!! The warmest day ever recorded in February history, so what kind of winter was that? I get snow then a few days later im sweating in February, which did not make sence. Summer was DEAD on. The heat waves predicted came to happen as well when we had our hottest July on record. 2012 was accuarate but winter was a little tough to catch but not bad! I will be watching for the winter 2012-13. Last winter was so rare we shouldnt expect it to happen again on a second year in a row. A record breaking positive NAO probably wont be the case again. My husband used to be a meteorologist and he says chances of another record warm positive NAO again this year are very very slim because indications say no already. Also El Nino may mean a big winter, but the winter outlook will answer that question 🙂

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