What next? Weighing in on winter weather

 The weather's been wacky– first a drought, then months of endless rain, now up-and-down temperatures that seem to be throwing even seasoned weather watchers for a loop. Que pasa?

Mother Nature did not return The Hook's repeated calls by press time, so we turned to a few other sources to see if anyone can tell us what kind of winter we're in for in the coming months.


Climatologist Jerry Stenger says there's no saying what winter will bring.

Jerry Stenger

  Climatologist in the UVA-based Virginia Climatology office

 When we spoke with Stenger back in August, the rain was coming down nearly every day, and he had some bad news for anyone dreading a repeat of last year's snowy season: "A betting man would give slightly better odds to us having a cooler, wetter winter than a warmer or drier one."

The reason for those odds, Stenger explained, was the jet stream. [See sidebar for more.]

For the first eight months of this year, the jet stream was in a "U" formation, sucking cold arctic air down across the western and central plains states and then reversing, channeling cool, wet weather up across the eastern seaboard. That pattern itself, Stenger explains, is not unusual. What is unusual is the length of time the pattern persisted.

Things, however, have changed in the past two months, and now Stenger says there's just no knowing what will come.

As of last week, the same "U" pattern was forming, but Stenger says it's anybody's guess if it will remain in place. If it does, there could be trouble.

"If it should become a persistent situation, like it was last winter," he says, "we could well be in for another grim season with a significant number of storms coming our way. That increases the likelihood that snowfall will be heavy."

Keep your eyes on that jet stream!


Farmer's Almanac

 Forget Robert VanWinkle. Forget Pat Michaels. Everyone knows the most famous weather prognosticator is Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog who tells us on February 2 whether we can get the bikinis out or will need to keep the woolies on hand for another six weeks.

Phil happens to be the most famous– but he's not the only– weather predictor in folklore. West Virginians rely on tadpoles instead of marmots for gauging the end of winter: "If the peepers see twice through glass, winter is sure to last," they say. "Thunder in February, snow in May" or "February fog means a frost in May," are other folksy alternatives to the Weather Channel.

But perhaps the most consulted weather predictor is the venerable Old Farmer's Almanac, which this year, its 187th edition, weighs in on the upcoming winter in Central Virginia. The Almanac, which we'll call the Old Farmer, divides the country into seven zones and makes each zone's weather predictions in three-day periods.

For zone three, the mid-Atlantic region, the Old Farmer foresees another cold one, but with less snow than last winter. We can expect temperatures on average one to two degrees below normal, he says, with "well-below-normal temperatures from mid-November through mid-January, and near-normal temperatures from late January through March."

Even though he's a bit off (so far) on November, the Old Farmer predicts that starting in February, "a seemingly unending series of disturbances will begin and continue into early spring," although he does concede that in the southeast, temperatures will be "milder than normal."

Climatologist Jerry Stenger says the Almanac uses climatology, a study of average weather patterns for particular locations, to make its often accurate– but quite often inaccurate– predictions.

The journal's website, farmersalmanac.com, gets specific about our expected precip: "The coldest temperatures will be around the New Year, with other especially cold periods in early December and mid-January. Precipitation will be below normal, and most places will also have below-normal snowfall. "

So cut this out and paste it on your fridge: "Southern parts of the region will get more snow than the north, with the best chances for accumulating snow in early December and mid-January. April and May will be wetter and much warmer than normal, despite the chance for a bit of snow after the first hot spell in early April."

Keep a tally, and see how he does. The Old Farmer's website claims uncanny (he calls it "freaky") accuracy: "Remember the snow that made Thanksgiving travel wet and messy in the East?" the old guy asks. "And don't forget the blizzard that dumped up to 30 inches of snow in the Northeast. All of these weather events were predicted in the 2003 Farmers' Almanac, as was the soggy wet spring in the East."

With a track record like that, who are we to quibble? We've already canceled our reservations for New Year's at Snowshoe.


Astrologer Gary Brand believes the stars point to a wet winter.

Brand says the chart seen above tells all you need to know about winter weather.

Gary Brand, astrological consultant

 Though climatologist Jerry Stenger couldn't offer a firm answer on what this winter might hold, Gary Brand, an Albemarle-based astrological consultant, says the answer– like all answers– lies in the stars.

Brand says he has some experience in "astrometeorology": He's done "dozens" of single-day weather predictions for important outdoor events like weddings without a single rainout. But he had never done a chart for an entire season– until now.

Using the winter solstice (this year it's December 22) as the basis for his prediction, Brand delivered a complex chart, based on the 12 "houses" that represent the 12 pie-shaped segments of the sky in astrology. If the stars are right, we'd better get our coats out.

"Extreme mixed with moderate," is how Brand describes the weather we'll likely see come winter. "There will be quite a bit of fluctuation, " he says, "especially in the temperature and the winds. There could be a cold rain."

One thing's sure from the chart: "It's going to be a wet season," says Brand, "colder and with more snow than normal."