Warring predictions over winter weather | PostIndependent.com

Warring predictions over winter weather

Eli Pace
epace@summitdaily.com

Whether it's "The Old Farmer's Almanac" or meteorologists pointing to the El Nino-Southern Oscillation, most early predictions call for a colder, snowy winter this year. However, at least one local expert believes it's unwise to count any inches before they actually fall.

Since 1792, the Farmer's Almanac has published information on myriad topics, things like the tide tables for fishermen, sunrise and planting charts for farmers, recipes for cooks and, of course, its ever-popular, long-range weather forecasts.

The almanac stands as North America's oldest continuously published periodical, and stays far away from hot-button issues like politics, first-person essays or anecdotal stories. Rather, the almanac's "main endeavor is to be useful, but with a pleasant degree of humor," a mission statement that's been a mainstay of the publication for more than two centuries.

The Farmer's Almanac comes out every year in September, and its weather predictions, made 18 months in advance, are some of the books most well-read pages. According to the publisher, these projections have been found to be about 80 percent accurate.

That sounds like a good bet, but no one should take the book to the bank.

According to the almanac, the Intermountain Region — stretching from Arizona to Washington state — is in store for a colder, wet winter.

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"Breckenridge Ski Resort welcomes the news of a potentially snowier-than-normal winter season this year," wrote Zak Sos, the resort's communications manager, in an email.

"Typically Breckenridge's high altitude offers a longer ski season than most major resorts in the United States," he continued. "We're looking forward to kicking off the winter ski and snowboard season on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017."

And there's more where that forecast came from. Not related to the Farmer's Almanac, some meteorologists such as Chris Tomer with FOX31 Denver are pointing to the El-Niño-Southern Oscillation as a likely factor for a winter with above-average precipitation for much of the country.

As such, Tomer is predicting that Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho could see "normal to above-normal snowfall this winter at the ski areas."

ENSO is a naturally occurring fluctuation of ocean temperatures near the equator in the Pacific Ocean. Warmer waters basically oscillate back and forth across the Pacific, and the phenomenon is known to cause variations in regional climate patterns.

Featured at OnTheSnow.com, Tomer's take offers optimism and caution for skiers: "Keep in mind this is an early season, broad-brush forecast. It's important to watch ocean temperatures in September and make adjustments. This forecast might be helpful if you're booking a Christmas or winter ski trip. The Intermountain West is trending in a wet direction, but the wildcard for early season ski trips will hinge on temperature trends."

Other meteorologists like Joel Gratz, however, are urging winter enthusiasts to refrain from making any plans based on any of these long-term forecasts.

Gratz is credited with helping to create OpenSnow.com, a website that's quickly become one of the premier resources for tracking Colorado's powder days, and Gratz said people can't take these kinds of weather predictions too seriously.

"In a nutshell, long-range forecasts that attempt to predict snow three to six months away are not useful because they are rarely accurate and, even if they are accurate in saying that we'll have above-average or below-average snowfall, they can't tell us when the snow will fall during the season," he said. "Thus people cannot plan to ski during certain times when they know the snow will be best."

In a recent piece he wrote for his website, Gratz notes that none the long-term forecasts released in the fall of 2016 that he's seen accurately predicted last year's massive snow dumps on Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which is home to three ski areas. Nor did they see many of the deep powder days in the Pacific Northwest, Utah or Colorado coming, he added, especially in December and January, the heart of the ski season.

"In the fall of 2016, I looked back at the predictions for the 2015-2016 season and concluded that most forecasters were not accurate in their outlooks for the season ahead," Gratz wrote. "Fast forward one year to now, the fall of 2017, and I am basically writing the same article as I did last season."

Gratz said he believes there may come be a time when long-range forecasts can be consistently accurate, "but that time is not now."

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