What the Experts are Saying About the Weather – by Joe Stevens

Hello Everyone –

I just thought for my first column of the season, I would check out with some weather experts on what they thought was going to take place this season for skiers and snowboarders in the southeast and mid-Atlantic regions. I am taking into account that parts of the regions (mainly the mountains of West Virginia) have received over five-feet of natural snow already this season! However you know in these parts how the good times can quickly change. By the way, I asked each weatherman for a paragraph describing their season forecast and again none of them could be short winded if they tried so please excuse the length of this story. I think you will find the various opinions interesting. So here goes.

We first spoke with Herb Stevens, the meteorologist best known as “The Skiing Weatherman” on a number of TV stations in the region and in his words believes the following:

As is typical with winters following a moderate to strong La Nina (as we experienced much of last winter) in the Pacific Ocean, the skiing and riding season has gotten off to a very fast start in the eastern part of North America, all the way from Quebec to North Carolina. The cold weather will only deepen as we move into December, as a connection with a pure arctic air mass develops by the second week of the month. By the time the next month is over, December 2008 will resemble December 2000 and 1989…both were well below normal in terms of temperature. Having a direct connection to arctic air tends to suppress the jet stream to a lower latitude, and that will likely manifest itself in a more southerly storm track through the next month, which bodes well for the central and southern Appalachians in terms of natural snow.

Now, as the saying goes, "that’s the good news…". The colder than normal pattern will reverse itself by the middle of January or so, as the bulk of the cold air from Canada will start to gravitate toward the West more often than it heads for the East. Consistent cold and natural snow will be harder to find during the second half of the season, but by that time, everybody should have a very substantial base with which to work. As an upper level ridge tries to dominate over the southeastern United States later in the winter, I suspect that many southern Appalachian resorts will close a little ahead of their historical average closing dates…the season could be cut short somewhat in the central Appalachians, as well. Overall, this will be a "front loaded" winter, with excellent prospects for holiday snow conditions in December.  Click here to see all of Herb’s SnoCountry Winter Forecast

Now let’s check in with Brad Panovich, Chief Meteorologist for WCNC-TV in Charlotte, NC (and a skisoutheast.com contributor) has the following thought:

This winter across the southeast promises to be one of the best in over ten years for snow and cold. The early start to the season really isn’t a surprise, but more of a continuation of the pattern we have seen from the beginning of the year. This year has seen below average temperatures for most of the spring and summer and now this continues into the autumn. The lack of the strong LA Nina from last winter will help to turn things around and with a neutral phase other oscillations will have a bigger influence on the winter pattern. The strongly negative NAO or North Atlantic Oscillation will keep a prominent eastern U.S. trough which means cold outbreaks from Canada and the Arctic. The fact that snow and record growth of ice in the Arctic just adds to the
notion that cold air will build early and often this winter. So colder than average winter temperatures across the southeast is a given and the question then turns to how much snow?

Now with colder air the chances increase for snow, but the storm track during the winter months really dictates the amount of snow you receive. I expect a Texas to Ohio valley storm track which will serve the mountains of the Virginias pretty well for natural snow. The outbreaks of cold air though from the northwest will also lead to more northwest snow events. Like we have seen this
autumn already, while these can bring majors snows to the Virginias the North Carolina resorts see smaller amounts but the cold air will help keep snow on the slopes. The hope is that a few major low pressure systems will form at the base of the Eastern trough in the Gulf of Mexico and then move up the east coast with some epic snows as we go through the season. I expect  December to be a very cold and active month for snow which will last into early January. There will be a mid January thaw then more cold and snow for February and March.

Switching now to Spencer Adkins, Chief Meterologist for WOWK-TV in Charleston, WV and he thinks:

Given the great head-start of natural snowfall and cold temperatures, the super computers at the Climate Prediction Center are spitting out the forecast of ‘much below normal temperatures’ for the month of December for our region.  Precipitation chances still come out to about an "equal chance" of being above or below normal. Of course in this setup we usually see those northwest winds which are GREAT natural snow makers while the Great Lakes remain unfrozen. Eventually, we’ll see changes such as the lakes freezing over and at times a very active "southern branch" of the jetstream. That pattern can bring us lots of "wet" snow or sometimes it can bring rain or freezing rain instead. The overall winter forecast calls for a slightly better than average chance
of a warmer than normal winter for the southeast. As long as we have a solid base at the start of the season, we should be able to enjoy skiing for quite some time.

We now hear from someone everyone is familiar with Jim Cantore at The Weather Channel and Mr. Blizzard sees it this way:

This may sound like a cop out but I despise seasonal forecasts. By time you and your readers get the feeling Cantore is calling for a cold winter the pattern will have switched and it will warm up and I will look like an idiot. So I will address your question this way: If you plan on skiing in the central and southern Appalachians enjoy these epic conditions through mid December at least. Confidence is very low that this pattern will continue in through the entire winter. Oh… and by the way…it isn’t "officially" winter yet and because of that it may start to warm up by December 21st and stay that way which would validate the seasonal outlooks by NOAA of an above average winter in terms of temperatures.

So now you have a little insight as to why playing with seasonal outlooks is like playing with fire on a dry windy day in the middle of a drought. Chances are your going to get burned. Since I am a glass half full kind of guy I will leave you with this. Conditions for Appalachian riding (skiing and boarding) couldn’t be better with a combination of man made and natural snow and below average temperatures.

And finally a good friend of mine Sean Sublette, Meteorologist at WSET-TV in Roanoke, VA chimes in with his opinion:

While seasonal forecasting has its limitations, there are some signals suggesting that it will be colder and snowier than the last 3 seasons. First off, the extent of the Arctic Sea Ice is greater than last year at this time, meaning there is a larger source region for Arctic air to build and dislodge into North America. The water in the central and western North Pacific is a bit colder than last year, which keeps the overall heat continent of the northern hemisphere down. Additionally, we are in a neutral phase of the El Nino cycle, which suggests that warmer air will hold farther south this year.

These conditions lead us to believe that this year will be colder than last year, with temperatures near normal or slightly below normal. The last three seasons have had temperatures above normal, so expect a significantly different feel to this winter when compared to the past three. Cold outbreaks lend themselves to providing lots of natural snow to the resorts in West Virginia, Maryland, and northern North Carolina, so expect conditions to be strong in these locations for much of the season.

That’s it for the season’s first column, more to come as the season continues, just remember whether it be cold or whether it be hot, we’ll whether the weather, whatever the weather will be. Think about it! See you on the slopes.

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Joe Stevens, a member of the southeast ski industry since 1990 is a regular columnist for skisoutheast.com and serves as the Communications Director for the West Virginia Ski Areas Association.