Dave Vaughn Jr.’s weather nose is pretty well honed.
As owner of D&A Towing, he spends a lot of time on Lorain County’s roads and has a hunch about how the 2016-2017 winter season will turn out.
“I think it’s going to be a good, healthy winter,” he says — after last year’s mildness, he believes we’re due for cold and snow.
The nation’s top climatology experts agree, at least when it comes to Northeast Ohio and the rest of the Great Lakes Region.
A long-range forecast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center says sea surface temperatures across the southern Pacific play a surprising role in determining what our winters will look like. This year, La Nina will shape our winter weather, bringing more warmth and less rain to the southern U.S. and wetter, cooler conditions in the north.
This La Nina is expected to be weak and short-lived. Arctic pressure could also cause nor’easters to form on the Atlantic coast — caught in the middle, it’s hard to predict where Ohio’s average temperatures will fall.
When it comes to rain, sleet, and snow the story is different. NOAA’s winter outlook gives Ohio a greater than 33 percent chance of being wetter than normal, except for the Appalachian sliver along the West Virginia and far eastern Kentucky borders.
The outlook isn’t aimed at predicting specific snowstorms or how severe they might be — those kind of storms can be anticipated at best a week in advance.
But all the data has many forecasters saying lake effect snow will hit early and hard this season, especially if arctic air moves down over Lake Erie. Average lake temperatures in the past few weeks have been between 55 and 60 degrees, well above average; when cold air hits warmer waters, it can kick up snow.
“Regardless of the outlook, there is always some chance for extreme winter weather, so prepare now for what might come later this winter,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
Global temperatures have been setting records all year. Here in the U.S., the lower 48 states weathered their third warmest October in the 122 years since record-keeping began, 3.6 degrees above the 20th century average.
It’s a warming trend that scientists have tracked consistently over the past three decades. They’ve noted 2016 has also been the second-warmest year to date, with an average U.S. temperature of 57.8 degrees, which is 2.8 degrees above average.
Rain and snowfall have also increased by nearly two inches above average, but not evenly across the entire country.
While Hurricane Matthew made landfall in South Carolina this year and the Pacific Northwest had record wetness, the drought footprint expanded by 26 percent in the South. Much of the Great Lakes region also fought drought, including sections of Northeast Ohio. The extreme hot, dry conditions expanded into Lorain County in the late summer, government offices said.
While all this gives precious clues about how our winter will unfold, it’s still largely a guessing game. Whether warm or cold, wet or dry, Vaughn says the most important thing to do is to move over and slow down when you see emergency vehicles on the road.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration This map shows varying likelihoods of wet winter conditions across the United States. Note that almost all of Ohio has above-average chances of precipitation.