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Get Out Your Arctic Survival Gear: Long-Range Winter Forecast Calls For Above Average Cold and Snow

by on October 17, 2014 6:00 AM

Remember last winter?

The brutal sub-zero cold?

The snow that started early and never seemed to stop?

Ready for a break this coming winter?

The experts at AccuWeather say fuhgeddaboudit!

The latest long-range forecast is out -- and it's calling for a cold, snowy winter across the Northeast, and yes, that means us.

According to Accuweather cold air will surge into our region in late November and we may even see a return of the dreaded Polar Vortex.

Paul Pastelok is a senior meteorologist who heads up AccuWeather's Long-Range Forecasting Team and what he describes isn't pretty -- assuming that you don't relish teeth rattling cold and snow up to here!

"Overall, I think people will perceive by the end it will be a cold winter, by a couple of degrees below normal and slightly above normal snowfall here in Central Pennsylvania," says Pastelok.

By that he means it will be very snowy with lots of cold -- just not as bad as the Winter of 2013.

"We were exceptionally cold [last winter], says Pastelok. "The temperatures that we saw across the state were 15, 16 degrees below zero in some spots which I've never seen those kind of readings ... since I've been living here -- for 26 years now."

To come up with the long range winter forecast, meteorologists look at a number of factors. They examine weather models from as many as nine countries. They check weather records going back six or seven decades. "I look at overall patterns," says Pastelok. "I look at the ocean water temperatures -- how they look this year compared to other years -- are there any similarities? What happened this past summer and fall could translate into what happens this winter."

After last winter, the term "Polar Vortex" should be frozen in your memory. You'll no doubt recall that normally, very strong upper level winds help keep the Polar Vortex (and its extremely cold air) boxed up around the Arctic Circle. However, a jolt of warm air can cause the Polar Vortex to literally head south -- bringing Arctic cold with it.

That could happen again this winter, but at least it shouldn't be as severe. "I think this year you're looking at a little bit of a difference here where we will see some real good cold shots that come down in the latter part of the season, but they won't last as long," says Pastelok.

When it comes to snow, Pastelok is calling for more of the same. "I do feel that we're going to get a fair amount of snow," he says, "probably just slightly above normal snowfall here in the State College area."

So what's "normal?" According to the National Weather Service, State College has received, on average, 45.9 inches of snow each year, based on records going back to 1893.

AccuWeather's Pastelok says total snowfall can be tricky to predict because some storms might brush past our area instead of scoring a direct hit. The bottom line? "There could be close to 60 inches of snow this year," he says. "Then again, it's going to depend on the track of these systems coming out of the south. ... We could be off by five to 10 inches of snow."

The difference, though, is that this coming winter the storms will be coming from a different direction thanks to El Nino -- an area of warm water that can develop in the Pacific Ocean. "We're in a weak El Nino, says Pastelok, "so that means that the northern air can have some play and you can get some cold and you can get these systems to come farther north.

"We are very concerned about a southern track," he explains. "A lot of our systems were coming out of the Northwest [last year] and then redeveloping as they got to the East Coast and exploding into big storms. ... This year, I think the storm track is going to be coming more out of the Gulf of Mexico, coming up through the Southeast. Those are the kind of systems that can provide big hitters. You have big hitters that can produce a lot [of snow] in a short period of time.

"So instead of having a system every two or three days, like we saw for awhile last year, we may go a couple weeks without seeing a big system. But we may get hit [with quite a bit of snow] out of that system."

It's still not too late to book your flight to Tahiti.

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Steve Bauer was the Managing Editor of StateCollege.com. Steve and his wife Trina are longtime area residents. They reside in State College along with a wacky Golden Retriever named Izzy.
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