Winter Weather Outlook: What to Expect

October 13, 2012

Winter officially arrives on Dec. 21 at 6:12 in the morning. We all know too well winter -- and specifically winter weather -- can strike at any time.

With winter looming on the horizon and cooler temperatures already beginning to set in, there is one question on the minds of people all across Central Virginia, "Will it be a snowy winter?"

Naturally, many of us have flashbacks to the winter of 2009-2010, and for many good reasons! Not only was this one of the snowiest winters on record the Charlottesville area with a whopping 56.8 inches of snow for the season, but it also brought snowstorms like the one on Dec. 18-19 that dumped more than 20 inches of snow all across Central Virginia.

This one storm became one of the biggest snowstorms of all times in Charlottesville and the impacts were extreme. Roads were not passable and travel was crippled as the monster storm buried the region, all during a time when many were making their holiday travels.

While these scenes may bring back unpleasant memories, let's put things in perspective. The 2009-2010 season was a bit of an outlier. In fact, it brought us nearly 3.5 times more snow than average.

Of course, Charlottesville is also no stranger to winters with little, if any snow. Our winter with the least amount of snow on record was the winter of 1900-1901, when a measly three-tenths of an inch of snow fell for the entire season.

With that kind of spread or very little snow to a large amount of snow, what can we say about the upcoming winter season of 2012-2013?

Weather Authority meteorologist Brantley Ussery explains:

When we try to make a winter weather predictions, we have to look at the big scale weather patterns. Are we going to have an El Niño? Right now, it looks like we have a weak El Niño developing for the upcoming season and that typically means a more active branch of the southern jet stream. As you get a more active southern jet stream, that typically means slightly wetter-than-average conditions expected from the mid-Atlantic down into the Carolinas and also extending back out to California. So, as far as the precipitation goes for the winter season, we think slightly above average.

As far as the temperatures go, it could be quite tricky. Right now, we are following some very warm ocean temperatures in the Pacific, right off the coast of Japan. Numbers are running well about the average. That could force a big ridge over the Pacific. Meanwhile, you get a big dip in the jet stream over the western United States, leading to cooler-than-average conditions there, and a corresponding ridge across the east. This would lead us to believe that temperatures are going to be slightly warmer than average across our area.

Our typical snowfall average for a winter season here in Charlottesville is 16.4 inches. Our official forecast is calling for 12 to 16 inches of snow for the 2012-2013 season. This is running slightly below our average. Of course, it only takes one big storm to throw these numbers off.

With all of that being said, we encourage you to stay tuned to your Weather Authority straight through the winter season for any updates on any storms that may develop.

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