RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — It is time for my 40th annual winter forecast here in Central Virginia.
One thing for sure, in my opinion, is that we are going to get more snow than last year’s absolute nothing! In fact, the last exciting snow that we had was back in December of 2018, when 11” of snow fell.
The 2023-2024 winter is going to be the season of the El Niño. You’ve heard all about it, and the fact that this one could possibly become the strongest on record!
This year’s El Niño could beat the previous records of 2015-2016 (a good snow year for us) and 1997-1998 (not a very good snow year for us.) Even if it falls short of a record, that will put it close to 2009-2010, which was the best season for snow that we had seen in a long time!
Historically, during an El Niño winter, the northern part of the U.S. is warmer and drier than usual, while the southern tier of states is cooler and wetter. Virginia is in a zone that is in-between and can go either way.
With our recent history, a slightly warmer winter over the area is expected.
What does that mean for snowfall in the area? Warmer would imply less of a risk of snow but the exact opposite could very well be true. All we need to do is maximize the return on winter storms that form near us to get heavier snow.
Persistent warm air would keep us and the oceans warmer. That means if we can get cold air — and we will at times — just as a storm is developing off the coast, the snow potential goes up.
I am looking at maybe fewer but more impactful storms to affect us this winter.
Now, here is the good news if you like snow. Even though the long-term trend is for less snow in our area due to climate change, there is a chance for us to beat it.
In a moderate to strong El Niño year, the Mid-Atlantic area shows an increase in snowfall. We are one of the “jackpot spots” for heavier snow.
Right now, while we might have a “scare” in December, we will probably avoid a big snow. The reason for that is we most likely won’t see a massive intrusion of arctic air into the area. What to watch for is something called “Sudden Stratospheric Warming.”
When it gets really warm very high up over the North Pole, the Polar Vortex becomes wavy about 2 weeks later. That is what dumps the cold air down into the U.S., that’s what happened at Christmas last year and early February this year.
Our chances are that the snow is going to come in January, when I can see two storms affecting us. Then, after a little break, another one is coming in February. There is a risk that a February storm could be more ice than snow, but time will tell.
So here is the bottom line on what you can expect:
- Temperatures: .2° above normal
- Snowfall: 18.6”
- White Christmas: 14% Chance
- Ice Storm: 36% chance
For those in the mountains, this could be a much better winter with snow, which would be much better news for the ski resorts, which suffered terribly last year.
Now, it’s time to see what happens.