Welcome to winter!
Welcome to winter!(wavenews)
Updated: Oct. 31, 2022 at 8:08 PM EDT
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Happy Halloween!

It is that lovely time of the year we look into the crystal ball to see how warm, cold, wet, dry or snowy the winter will be! As we all know, trying to figure a weather pattern out in advance is a challenge any time of year, but especially in the winter...and especially in the Ohio Valley.

Having said that, weather patterns do repeat. We are learning more about what causes that to happen and identifying “when” some of those patterns take place. It remains extremely difficult to near impossible in many cases to get into specifics. But if you are weather enthusiast, you are always up to the challenge!

So sit back, and enjoy!



These large bodies of water rule meteorology and climatology. When the wind flows change, water temperatures change...and then weather patterns change. We have learned that the Eastern Pacific is a key area to watch when those patterns shift. When those waters warm, we call it EL NIÑO. When they cool...LA NIÑA. And while it may not seem like changes there can’t impact us here at home, they indeed have and do.

There are also years when neither are obvious in change and we refer to those as NEUTRAL years.

Our area’s biggest snowstorms took place during EL NIÑO years. But to get lots of moisture, you need warm air. Big risk. Big reward.

NOAA has been tracking these pattern shifts since 1950....giving us 72 years worth of data to compare weather patterns to. That may seem like a lot but it is only but a fraction of time when it comes to climate changes.

This is what a typical LA NIÑA pattern looks like:

Cooler in the Eastern Pacific
Cooler in the Eastern Pacific(wavenews)

Cooling waters of the Eastern Pacific....

Typical pattern over North America
Typical pattern over North America(wavenews)

More dominant northern jet stream branch that can have some occasional “phasing” with the southern jet...typically near the Ohio Valley. That can increase precipitation and if cold enough, that would mean snow and if warm enough...severe thunderstorms.

This winter, we are entering our 3rd LA NIÑA in a row. That consecutive pattern has only been observed two other times since 1950.



What stood out during those years is that when the LA NIÑA signal was strong, we faced more of a severe t-storm issue and less on the snow. When the signal would weaken and get closer to NEUTRAL, the snow part picked up...and was earlier in the December/January periods.

This year’s LA NIÑA is expected to weaken and could even slide to the NEUTRAL spot by late winter.

From Climate Prediction Center
From Climate Prediction Center(wavenews)

If this holds true, it means that LA NIÑA can stay on the field as a player, but may get benched.


This was always one of Tom Wills’ favorites. The sun goes through an energy cycle of sunspots every 11 years. That we do know.

From the Space Weather Prediction Center
From the Space Weather Prediction Center(wavenews)

What is unclear is how much does that affect the climate?

So far, data has indicated that the earth experiences some of the greatest impacts when coming out of a SOLAR MINIMUM. Which of course happens every 11 years (give or take a year). It turns out our last time in this position was in 2011. Add 11 and BAM! 2022.

Looking at 2011 (and some of the previous 11 year cycles), along with the ocean temperature patterns and well...

2010/2011 8-17″ SNOW (LA NIÑA also at play)

1999/2000 10-13″ SNOW (LA NIÑA also at play)

1988/1989 <1-3″ SNOW (LA NIÑA weakened)

1977/1978 30-50″ SNOW (EL NIÑO was at play)

1966/1967 11-30″ SNOW (EL NIÑO increased)

Snowfall did at least show up most of those periods with 88-89 winter standing out. It should be noted that winter featured a continuing drought from the summer of ‘88 and set records for the least amount of snowfall and very cold temperatures.

There is still lots to learn on this correlation but the climate/sunspot relationship is a fascinating one to track We just need more cycles into the mix to complete the picture.


Much of the challenge of a winter forecast is figuring out what the “main” theme will be with the winter. Perhaps it becomes multiple themes (i.e., cold December, Warm February, etc.).

We do, however, receive several indicators that show up roughly TWO WEEKS in advance. They don’t always pan out but they have become much more advanced in detecting weather patterns than even 10 years ago.

Perhaps one of the most famous is the POLAR VORTEX.

This is basically the core of the cold at the North Pole. When it is strong, it likes to lock-in and remain up north. And we tend to be more at the mercy of “stale Canadian air” or warm air from the south. However, when it is weaker, it can get dislodged from its home plate. Sometimes, it can split and one piece goes into EURASIA and another into NORTH AMERICA.

Sometimes, the whole chunk comes on down like it just got its named called on the ‘Price is Right’ and aims right into the Ohio Valley. Many remember what that felt like in 2014.

This teleconnection is tracked using the ARCTIC OCILATION (the AO).

AO+ means strong Polar Vortex with no cold attacks locally

AO- means Polar Vortex is on the move and MAY attack the lower 48.

I say “may” because there are other teleconnections that have to line up to BRING it our direction.

See how complex this can get?

One that I think will become one to watch is the NORTH ATLANTIC OSCILATION (the NAO).

The NAO has much to do with what we call a “blocking” pattern. These are the patterns that can locked in for a few weeks (or longer) at a time. And if the signal is NEGATIVE NAO...that means the east coast is going to open the front door to the POLAR VORTEX.

More amplified over the Eastern US to Greenland
More amplified over the Eastern US to Greenland(wavenews)

This pattern is about the Atlantic (mainly Northern Atlantic) Ocean, hence its name. When high pressure builds over Greenland especially, the jet stream gets can get locked in its amplified/blocking pattern. This is when we typically see cutoff low pressures in the region. You can also get some blockbuster east coast storms as well as storm systems tend to be large and slow.

Blocking can result over eastern sections when negative
Blocking can result over eastern sections when negative(wavenews)

I have noticed we have been in a blocking pattern for several months. This led to a cool/wet spring, an intense heat wave and then the eventual drought.

Will this signal lock-in on the NEGATIVE side just as the AO turns NEGATIVE? Well, we are already seeing hints of that signal in just a couple weeks. If these two can become friends, we could have some very cold periods. But remember, cold air attacks typically mean low digits and DRY. The only excitement snow lovers get from this setup is when we ENTER that cold pattern and when we EXIT it. Those periods are when to watch for snow and ice. As a snow lover personally, the POLAR VORTEX attacks are just miserable with only light snow yet brutally cold. Remember, if you want the bigger events, you need warm air to get involved. Remember: Big risk. Big reward.


The above just covers a few of the many elements in winter forecasting for the Ohio Valley but we have to put our toes in the water at some point. Right?!

With a blocking pattern likely, the cold attacks will stand out. We look to be on the edge of these attacks long enough/frequent enough to balance our the warm spells this winter. And there WILL be warm spells.

Normal to above normal for much of the lower 48 with colder departures over the north and Ohio...
Normal to above normal for much of the lower 48 with colder departures over the north and Ohio Valley.(wavenews)

Forecasting the snow part of this forecast is more for entertainment than true science as the skill in such a forecast is near impossible. At the same time, the weather does repeat itself so our thinking is that there will be enough snowfall to get us to the normal to above level with a HIGH confidence in the winter storm aspect in our area. That signal may be lower to the north with the POLAR VORTEX having a chance to limit moisture up into that area. The “sweet spot(s)” look to be where you can get just the right amount of overlapping.

Overlapping of the cold attack and phasing sub-tropical jets will be the spots to watch
Overlapping of the cold attack and phasing sub-tropical jets will be the spots to watch(wavenews)

Overall, we feel the average temperature by the end of winter will come out BELOW NORMAL. Snowfall will come out NEAR to ABOVE normal.

Near to below normal temperatures with snowfall normal to above normal
Near to below normal temperatures with snowfall normal to above normal(wavenews)

It is worth noting that this winter looks to start off cold/snowy for later in November/December with warm spells in January/February that will be countered by strong t-storms at times and more of an ice/snow combination. If the POLAR VORTEX does indeed aim more into our region, that would increase the cold and limit snowfall with dry air. Something we’ll be monitoring.

LA NIÑA, again, remains on the list of factors but likely a fading one. Watch the ARTIC OSCILLATION and NORTH ATLANTIC OSCILLATIONS carefully when the SnowTALK! Blog come out. Those will be the first signs of trouble....or fun?

Winter forecasting can become very POLAR-IZING (smile) when they get issued so we appreciate you taking the time to read this.

Oh, and before we end this, we decided to take a guess for the FIRST 1 INCH of SNOW at LOUISVILLE ALI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. We have quite the range this year :)

Date of first one inch snowfall at Ali International
Date of first one inch snowfall at Ali International(wavenews)

Take care and Bring On The Snow (B.O.T.S.) !!!