Winter 2014-15 to have more snow than normal, but less than last year

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You may be reading this while wearing summer-ish shorts and a T-shirt, or standing in comfortable weather in your driveway after getting your paper.

But here’s a news flash — winter’s coming.

Even though it’s only late August, school’s just getting ready to start and winter doesn’t officially start for four months, forecasters are already getting a good picture of what to expect for winter 2014-15.

And the picture has both good news and bad news.

The good news is, we shouldn’t expect the continual stretches of Arctic weather that we had last winter.

The bad news? The factors are lining up to bring us as much as a foot of snow above normal, although it’s not expected to be close to last winter’s 60-plus inches.

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Conditions are in place that “make me believe we’re going to have frequent periods of chill and opportunities for snow” this coming winter, Millersville University meteorologist Eric Horst said Thursday.

“I think this winter will be more variable, ups and downs in terms of the temperature, plus some storms that bring us rain as well as some that bring us snow.

“So at least for snow lovers, it might be an okay winter. But it would be a real surprise if it was a repeat of last winter” and its seemingly never-ending brutal cold and heavy snows, Horst said.

The average winter brings us 26 inches of snow, and for now the meteorologist would expect 2014-15 to have anywhere from 26 to 38 or 39 inches.

“That’s a decent winter in terms of snow, nothing lame like the 11 of two winters ago. But I think it will be very surprising to surpass the 60 of last winter.”

Horst emphasizes that he will have a much clearer picture later this fall, and will issue his official winter forecast in November.

But the way things look now, the much-discussed Pacific Ocean weather phenomenon known as “El Nino” indicates Lancaster County could have a little more snow than usual.

“When you’re going from neutral into the warm phase, that tends to be a winter (here) with a Southern storm track, and with cold air, that increases the chance of now,” Horst said.

As for what temperatures to expect, the MU meteorologist noted, “Last winter was the coldest winter in 20 years, so it’s very, very unlikely we’re going to have a repeat of that.”

Mark Paquette is a “long-range meteorologist” with AccuWeather in State College, and he is painting the same general picture of the coming winter as Horst.

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Paquette sees “above-average snowfall” this winter in Lancaster County, but emphasizes that “what we don’t see is that continuously long-lasting cold that we had last winter.

“We’ll get our cold, but it will be a more typical winter cold, where it’s cold for a few days, then it will moderate, and then it’s cold for a few days.

“I expect more of the back-and-forth (from cold to moderate) as compared to the stuck-in-the-icebox (mode) as we were last winter,” he said.

Both meteorologists agree the so-called “polar vortex,” while it was responsible for some of last winter’s bitter cold, is being overused as a term and is getting blamed unfairly for the current cooler-than-normal summer.

Said Horst, “Unfortunately, people this summer are using the ‘polar vortex’ as the excuse for some of these cool spells that we’ve had, and that’s completely wrong.

“It’s meteorologically impossible for a polar vortex to drop down here in the summer. That has never happened.”

The vortex is a pocket of the coldest air in the hemisphere, which is at jet-stream level generally north of the Arctic Circle, but in the winter can collapse and travel well south of the Arctic.

And it did slip down to the eastern Great Lakes and the U.S./Canada border, giving us the deep freeze. But it is not a factor in chilly summer nights, Horst said.

Paquette said too often people hear about the polar vortex in a fall forecast, “and what do they think? They think it’s going to be cold and snowy in September.

“No, it’s not going to snow and it’s not going to be below zero in September or anything like that.”

But December and January are coming.

Horst cautioned that his winter forecast is not chiseled on a stone tablet: “This is just a first look at the winter outlook. You shouldn’t be placing bets on this or anything.”

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By DAVID O’CONNOR, Lancaster Online


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