The Weather AHEAD — What to expect.

We received a lot of emails about our stories on Sunday regarding the weather. After all we ARE at the mercy of the temperatures. Even without natural snow…if we get the right kind of temps, we can have a good season. Without it we might as well be talking about golf or hiking.

So what’s up with all of this mild weather? Did ALL of the national experts get it wrong? The Farmer’s Almanac, Intellicast, The Weather Channel, the National Weather Service, Ray Russell of local fame…and that darned Woolly Worm ALL predicted a colder and snowier winter than normal…with MORE snow than last season.

Here’s a direct quote from Ray Russell, "A winter much like last year. Expect temperatures to average 2 to 3 degrees colder than normal, and expect total snowfall for the winter of 25% above average. That translates to:

Watauga and Avery Counties (3200′ to 4000′) 50"-55"
The Jeffersons and Sparta 35"-40"
High Country Mountaintops 100"+
Asheville area around 20"
Hickory/Lenoir around 12"

The difference this year (compared to last) is that, in a Weak El Niño winter, a stronger southern jet may add a little ice to the mix. Also, El Niño winters tend to have "big finishes" with more than normal snow in March and April especially on the mountaintops. Could we have 3 monster ski seasons in a row? That’s what I believe. Let it snow!"

Russell also adds, "The first three weeks of winter will be colder and snowier than normal."

Just so we won’t be accused of picking on Ray, ALL of the major weather sources, including the National Weather Service said much the same thing. As of right now, they are ALL going to be ZERO for Three. (One for three if you GIVE them the fact that week one of winter had SOME cold air. Before I get any argumentative types out there…the severe COLD of a few weeks ago was BEFORE December 21st, the official start of Winter.)

So is there still a chance at a colder and snowier winter?

Before we dive into the answer (if there is one) to that question, let’s FIRST address a couple of things. Meteorologists have the toughest and yet easiest job on the planet. It’s the toughest because they are never going to be right or wrong!

Think about it, they can say that there is a 55% chance that it will be a colder and snowier winter than normal and they can always fall back on the fact that by extension they said that there was a 45% chance that it would NOT be colder and snowier.

They also have the easiest job for the very same reason…they are NEVER held accountable for their forecasts because there is always that percentage factor to fall on. There is also the "God" factor. I can see God up in heaven saying, "Those dad-burned humans; they built themselves all this sophisticated dopplar radars and fancy computers…let’s see what we can do to teach them a lesson or two."

Before I get a lot of email bashing me for being anti-meteorologist, let me say that just like every living soul out there reading this article…I TOO watch the morning forecast with baited breath. I hang on every syllable written by Ray Russell in Boone. I listen to Bob Swanson (WJHL’s Channel 11 Meteorologist in Johnson City) and others. Heck, we now have several professional and novice weather guru’s sending me updates for SkiNC and SkiSoutheast regularly…and I love them all! But ALL of them are never right and they are never wrong. They are always 55% right, or 70% right or whatever percentage they assign to a forecast.

For Example – Sunday morning when I looked at the forecast models to show for SkiSoutheast.com there was 60% of snow on January 11th around Snowshoe in West Virginia. Now at 8pm Sunday evening as I write this, there is now a 40% chance of rain/snow mix on January 11th. What we all have to get better at is understanding that if there IS a 60% chance of snow…there is ALSO a 40% chance that it won’t.

According to NOAA’s preseason "Winter Outlook for 2004-2005" they provided the map that showed the percentages of colder temps and more precipitation. Those maps showed a 55% chance that our temps would be 2-3 degrees colder than normal. The precip map showed an equal 50% chance that we’d get more precipitation. That data had ALL those who call themselves "snow lovers" excitedly pitching that this season would be phenomenal in terms of snow and cold. In REALITY what those maps and their reports REALLY meant was that there was (is) a 45% chance that it would NOT be a colder winter and a 50% chance that it would be DRIER.

The Goodloe Breakfast – That sounds like some dietary plan doesn’t it? Ha! Actually I have been holding onto some information that I was hoping NOT to have to share with you guys. Three weeks ago at a media event that included myself and some forty television, newspaper and magazine people, I happened to end up making some first tracks turns down a slope, with our destination being a Belgian Waffle breakfast. Most media people are not necessarily the best skiers so on this particular day I ended up being one of the four fastest skiing to our destination. Among the other quickest down the hill were Paul Goodloe of THE WEATHER CHANNEL, Mike (sorry I can’t remember his last name) a meteorologist from a Pittsburgh television station, and fellow snow-lover (and my brother-in-law) Bob Comer. Since we were the first skiers down, we naturally took seats at the same table for breakfast. I, of course, took the opportunity to get a professional’s opinion of what the 2004-2005 season would be like. When I mentioned all of the NWS, NOAA, Farmer’s Almanac, and other regional experts statements that this would be a colder and snowier winter…they looked at me as though I was some poor dillusional six year old "who JUST didn’t know how things REALLY worked."

Paul Goodloe, who HAS to be respected as having ALL of the resources at his fingertips to make the right call more often than not, looked at me with a smile that reminded me of how my father used to look at me when I said something really stupid.

Instead of calling me an idiot, he would take me into his caring smile and say something like, "Son, I know that’s how things SEEM, but let me teach you how things REALLY are."

So with the kind of smile that said, "You poor, poor, uninformed, snow-loving soul…let me let you down as easily as I can…as I tell you that your hopes are based on inaccurate data."

Okay, I REALIZE all that would be hard to get out of a smile…but AFTER hearing his comments THAT is what the smile seemed to say. Goodloe, being the nice guy that he obviously is, was trying to break it to me gently. What he said was this, "This year we are experiencing a weak El Niño and that usually means that we’ll see periods of strong winter storms, but also prolonged drought and mild periods where you guys in Western North Carolina will have to fight to make snow."

He also mentioned that there were many factors that would be shaping our winter. Among them things like "El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO)", "Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies", and other things way over my head. He too mentioned that we may see more late snow in March as a result. As much as I hate to write this…Goodloe’s statements are ringing VERY true right now.

We started slower than normal with mild temps well into December and then BOOM we had two weeks of cold and high elevation snows that actually have Cataloochee reporting more snow than Beech Mountain right now. After this next week or so of MORE mild temps we will only have some nine weeks of Winter left. To even match last year’s snow totals, we’d have to AVERAGE almost 11" of snow per week here in the North Carolina mountains and about 20" a week in the West Virginia mountains. That will certainly be a stretch.

Based on the data that we are now being sent, this looks like it will be a roller coaster season with big snows and prolonged cold and mild spells. It will be THE TIMING of those prolonged spells that will spell how successful we’ll end up labeling the 2004-2005 season when it is all said and done.

Ready to pack up your skis and boards and break out the clubs? Naw…don’t be. I figured THE BEST way that I could do my part and turn things around would be to jinx "Mother Nature" and REALLY act like I knew what I was saying. Hence this report. Now that I have gotten this off my chest, I feel better now. I am going out on a limb here and saying that the 2004-2005 season will have a 95% chance of being dry as a bone and no more cold temperatures for the rest of the season.

Remember I CAN’T BE WRONG!

(Okay, God…that’s Your cue to make me look really stupid. God? Okay, bring on the frigid temps and deep snowfalls. God? You there?)

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Mike Doble
Mike is the Editor and founder of SkiSoutheast.com, SkiNC.com and ResortCams.com. Since September 1996 he has posted more than 13,000 posts, articles, photos and videos promoting all of the ski areas of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.Mike is the father of four daughters, is an avid skier and enjoys golf, tennis, kayaking and hiking in the mountains. Winter snowsports and Summer boating on Watauga Lake are among his favorite pastimes.