We thought it would never get here, but today marks the official start of spring. WGN Chief meteorologist Tom Skilling breaks down our off-the-charts winter, and shares the latest thoughts on what spring may bring.
“I think we’re running out of superlatives to describe the winter we just went through here in Chicago,” says National Weather Service meteorologist Ed Fenelon. “Rare is a winter that you don’t get some breaks from that very persistent cold. And then the snow was relatively relentless.” Fenelon is the Meteorologist-in-Charge of the Chicago office.
He says December, 2013 through February of this year, was the third coldest since 1871. And our official snow total of 79.1 inches at O’Hare, is double the average. “We’ve had basically the equivalent of two normal winter snowfall seasons in Chicago in one winter.”
The Midway airport snow total has topped 85 inches of snow. And, Chicago meteorologist, Ricky Castro, says it’s too early yet to say our snow is over for the season. “Over 85 inches of snow with it likely to be cold, the outside shot of getting over 90 inches at that site is just incredible. And even the 79 at O’Hare was a pretty good shot I’d say to pass 80.”
The official winter forecast last fall was for equal chances of above or below normal precipitation and snowfall. Fenelon says they would have liked to have seen some signals that would have indicated the magnitude of the winter we’ve just had. “Seasonal outlooks as this year would testify to, are still very much in their infancy in terms of our ability and the state of the science to predict these things.”
Fenelon says though these outlooks are not always spot on, there’s a lot of good science in them. “Where we have seen I think tremendous strides in the last 5 years or so, is in terms of the 8-15 day and the 15-30 day outlooks. I think we’re seeing quite a bit of skill in accurately predicting temperature and precipitation trends out that far.” Ed’s right about the improvement in science.
One of the most exciting developments is a breed of computer model the weather service is running, that marries the ocean to the atmosphere. Oceans have a lot to say about the kind of seasonal weather we have. For instance, this winter we’ve seen the jet stream has buckled north in western North America because of warm ocean temperatures. This has kept the flow pouring in from Canada with cold air.
Well, this new, combined ocean atmosphere model looks to April and says that pattern will continue. And look how much of the country is expecting colder than normal temperatures. But while the April forecast looks at the front end of the upcoming spring season, if we expand our view and look three months ahead, you’ll see the blue, below normal area shrinks.
This indicates seasonal warming may decrease the number of below normal days as spring proceeds. One reason we’re thinking spring may stay cool is because of the near record ice coverage on the Great Lakes this winter. My colleagues at the National Weather Service office tell us what that may mean in the weeks ahead. “Here in the Great Lakes area we have a delayed spring every year just given the presence of these bodies of water and the reservoir of colder water that exists as we move into the later spring.” Many ask since the winter’s been cold, does that mean the summer’s going to be chilly? Well, not necessarily.
The same weather service climate model we’ve been showing you shows near or above normal temperatures over a good part of the Midwest, with the coolest weather in the upper Midwest. State Climatologist Dr. Jim Angel has a practical reminder about seasonal forecasting and the role climate change may play. “There’s going be surprises out there and maybe this winter was an example of that. You know we thought we were just going have milder winters and continue on with that. But maybe we’re going to have more wildly different winters.”
Warming ocean temperatures along the equator in the Pacific may indicate an El Nino is developing. A strong El Nino could mean a warmer winter next winter. But, not all El Ninos are alike. So, a warm winter is not carved in stone and this is something we’ll be watching in the months ahead. Also, NASA today released satellite data that shows spring is coming about five days sooner than it did fifty years ago. You can find the link for that below, as well as more information on our spring forecast.
Producer Pam Grimes and photojournalists Ted Parra and Mike D’Angelo contributed to this report.