The Year Without a Winter in the Midwest, East?

By By Meghan Evans, Meteorologist
January 01, 2012, 1:05:13 AM EST

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A mild start to the 2011-2012 winter season in the Midwest and East has caused many to ask whether this season will turn out to be a "dud."

To others, less cold and less snow would be a good thing.

"The coldest air has been locked in Alaska so far this year," according to Paul Pastelok, expert long-range meteorologist and leader of the Long-Range Forecasting Team. "Cold shots reaching the Plains and the Ohio Valley have been losing their punch. They have also been short-lived."

The lack of snowcover in the northern Plains and very little to no ice on the Great Lakes have contributed to above-normal overnight lows across these regions. "Low temperatures have been running almost 15 degrees above normal," stated Pastelok.

The short-lived cold shots and lack of true arctic cold can be blamed--at least in part--on the absence of a blocking pattern so far this season.

A blocking pattern essentially means that a large area of high pressure area sets up over Greenland or northeastern Canada, forcing cold blasts to reach the U.S.


While lasting cold shots have not been occurring so far, the floodgates to colder air may be opened during the middle to latter part of January from the northern Rockies through the Midwest.

The Backward Weather of Fall 2011

"We still expect some blocking to develop later in January and early February, but this may not compare to how extreme it was last year," explained Pastelok.

There have been years in the past where winter started out quite mild then turned colder.

"Temperatures were well above normal early in January of 2002 from the Plains to the East, then it turned around with the last 10 days ending up well below normal," said Pastelok.

Other years that started mild before turning colder include 2000, 1976 and a few years in the 1950s. When comparing the winter of 2011-2012 to these past years, Pastelok commented that this is still an "odd season that sticks out."

A ridge of high pressure that has been dominating off the Southeast coast thus far this season, has been sending milder air into the East. This ridge will gain strength again by mid-February and should force the core of coldest air to shift back over the northern Rockies.

While cold air might not be lasting for the entire winter in the Midwest and the East, winter storms may continue well into March.

"In general, more cutters are expected than coastal storms," added Pastelok. So, more storms will take a path across the eastern Ohio Valley and the Appalachians rather than hugging the East Coast.

An inland storm track means more snow across the interior Northeast and Midwest, while more changeover events occur for the big I-95 cities from Washington, D.C., to Boston. Snow amounts are forecast to be below normal for the East Coast cities.

"If anywhere will seem like the year without a winter, it will be the mid-Atlantic and the Carolinas," said Pastelok.

Chicago will still get above-normal snowfall as the season gets in gear with longer-lasting cold spells.

Updated Seasonal Snow Forecast for Winter 2011-2012 Compared to Normal

Updated Seasonal Snow Forecast (in.)
Approximate Normal Seasonal Snowfall (in.)
New York City

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