Forecasts Predict Warmer Than Average Winter, Less Precipitation

Dec 25, 2015

Pittsburgh-area scientists predict warmer-than-average temps could affect snowfall through the coming winter.
Credit Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

  That snow shovel idling in the garage might see less use this winter.

Forecasts show the upcoming winter will be warmer than average — about six-tenths to one-quarter of a degree warmer every day — with slightly higher odds for light precipitation, according to Matthew Rosencrans, head of forecast operations at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center. 

Even small changes in temperature can affect precipitation levels, river streamflows, acidic content in seawater and changes in the speed of evaporation, which can dry out the land surface in some regions, according to a 2011 report from the National Academy of Sciences. 

Rosencrans said the temperature increase will be undetectable for most.

“It’s not really much humans are going to feel on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “But energy companies (and) ski resorts, they’ll have more days where they’re closer to freezing (temperature).”

Energy companies might see a decrease in demand for home heating and resorts could rely on more man-made powder, he said.

However, Pittsburgh probably won’t get through the winter completely unscathed.

“It’s winter — we will end up with a couple of really cold periods,” Rosencrans said. “But they’re not going to be as long, or they’re not likely to be as intense as last year and especially the year before that.”

Western Pennsylvania is not alone.

“The entire eastern half of the country, from the Great Plains to the East Coast, has (had) above normal temperatures for the past 30 days,” Rosencrans said. “Winter’s taking its slow time getting here.”

He said it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the temperature and precipitation changes this winter, but said it might be caused in part by anomalies in water temperatures in the Pacific and Indian oceans.

While the winter weather report is promising, Rosencrans urged Pittsburghers to stay on their guard.

“There will be storms in the winter. Do what people in the Pittsburgh area do every year: get prepared. Get your 72 hours of water and food because you may be without power if a storm comes through,” he said. “You don’t want to be in a really cold house without the ability to feed yourself and stay warm.”