Western Massachusetts has had a taste of winter so far, but many aren't so sure of what to expect for the rest of the season.
Although winter is still a month away, the Western Mass News First Warning Weather Team has been working diligently to see what they think 'old man winter' might have in store for us this time around.
Western Massachusetts is well into a typical New England fall, with the usual big temperature swings and wild weather.
On October 18 we saw a new record high temperature of 84 degrees. Only nine days later, we had our first snowfall of the year.
Parts of western Massachusetts saw over an inch of snow that lead to power outages and slippery roads.
"I was used to the nice warm weather, actually,I was used to the nice weather we had last year. And this is a change," Said Jack Fox.
Since last winter was such a breeze, with high temps and little-to-no snow, many are concerned if we will see more snow this year, or if will we have a winter at all.
So far, this season is coming off to be one of the warmest and driest winters on record.
Our total snowfall of 23.9 inches was about half of the season average.
"Last year, many of the storms either tracked over us or to our west, so even though we may have started with snow, we pretty quickly moved over to rain or rain and sleet," said First Warning Meteorologist Dan Brown.
Not only were we a little too warm, but storm tracks would just miss western Massachusetts.
"A lot of times, winter to winter, storm to storm, just a slight variation in the path could mean big differences in snow totals," said Brown.
Some of the variables the First Warning Weather Team tracks are starting to show signs of activity for the upcoming season.
"A couple things we are watching as we go into the winter months. El Nino, which is an ocean pattern. Then we watch some atmospheric patterns that determine if we have a snowy winter or a cold winter. That's the north Atlantic oscillation and arctic oscillation," said First Warning Weather Meteorologist Janna Brown.
El Nino southern oscillation, or ENSO for short, is the warming or cooling of the pacific ocean waters along the equator.
Last year, ENSO was strongly positive, contributing to our warm and dry winter.
This year, the El Nino pattern is forecast to be in a weak la nina state, which would put the northeast in a colder setup for snow.
"What we watch for more day-to-day is the nao and ao. They are atmospheric patterns that determine if we're going to have a lot of snow or a little snow. Or a little bit or lot of cold," said Janna Brown.
When the pressure gradient and winds in the north Atlantic are relaxed, it allows colder air to spill into the us. That would be a 'negative' phase of the north Atlantic oscillation.
"The arctic oscillation is a little counter-intuitive. It's directly correlated to the polar vortex. A strong polar vortex will actually trap cold air well to our north and we'll get mild conditions. If the polar vortex is weaker, then pieces of it will break off and come down into New England, bringing those really cold shots of air to us," said Janna Brown.
Having the cold air in place plays a huge difference in our local weather.
"A degree or two difference, that could mean the difference between a heavy wet snow or all rain. If you get one or two of those storms going one way or the other, that's going to change your idea of the entire winter," said Dan Brown.
Finally, we look at the snow cover in Siberia, sometimes dubbed the "refrigerator of the northern hemisphere."
The feedback mechanism works as more snow in Siberia leads to more light reflected back into space.
That leads to colder temperatures which then get transported our direction.
Eurasian snowfall is running 100% above average for this time of year. That weighs heavily in our winter forecast.
"This winter is shaping up to colder and wetter than last year. In fact, the first warning weather team is forecasting near-average snowfall totals for the season," said First Warning Weather Meteorologist Don Maher.
I love snow days, and I love having a day off to play in the snow," said Mya Walker.
Western Massachusetts can expect periods of relative warmth and bone chilling cold, but in the end, we'll be near average or slightly below temperature-wise for the winter.
"The most remarkable part of the winter will be that we have a winter at all," said Don Maher.
The First Warning Weather Team will have plenty of time to tweak this forecast as certain signals become clearer.
Residents across western Massachusetts should plan accordingly as the First Warning Weather team sees we are entering a more active period for the next few weeks.
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