Predicting our winter: Old wives tales or science? - Dallas News |

Predicting our winter: Old wives tales or science?

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As we brace for our first freezing temperatures of the season, many are wondering if Mother Nature will deliver a harsh winter this year. Every year is different, but we can use some clues from what is happening now to help us predict what the winter will bring.

Two winters ago, snow and ice shut down Atlanta for nearly a week. Last year, there really wasn't a winter.

"Like last year, we had such a nice winter, that I just figure we're going to have a bad one this year," said Melissa Griggs.

Plenty of people are wondering, or even making their own guesses, as to what this winter will hold in store.

By studying animal fur, Carol Marot says our winter will be a cold one. Old wives tales abound. Examples are observing how bushy the squirrels' tails are, or how many acorns they are collecting.

Have you heard this one? Christy Renea posted on FOX 5 Storm Team meteorologist Joanne Feldman's page: "Cut a persimmon in half, if the seeds are shaped like a spoon it will be a cold winter. And you'll be shoveling plenty of snow!"

Old wives tales aside, what can our area expect?  Climate models and monitoring patterns like El Nino can give us an idea.

El Nino and La Nina are two of the most reliable long-range weather predictors. El Nino is when sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the equator are warmer than normal. This pushes the southern branch of the jet stream across the southern United States and results in a more active storm track. So far, El Nino has been a no-show!

That makes this year's winter outlook a little more uncertain than usual. In light of this, NOAA predicts an equal chance of warmer than average or cooler than average conditions. As for precipitation, we get a wetter than average winter for areas south of Atlanta, but not for the rest of us.

So with nothing obvious to push us to a very mild winter or a harsh one, let's assume it is simply average.  So, what does that look like?

Flurries usually make an appearance by December, if not sooner. We experience a thaw, a period of warmer than average temperatures during the first or second week of January. Then,at least one light measurable snow, usually in January or February.

Based on this, we should see more of a winter than last year but if we don't, some people won't mind at all.

"No, because I don't have to shovel sunshine," said Linda Callahan.

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