Unseasonably cool weather this week, with lows in the low 40s, turned thoughts toward the winter ahead.
The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center and other forecasters are calling for below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation this winter in North Carolina and elsewhere in the southeastern United States, a sharp departure from last year’s unusually warm and dry winter.
The North American Ensemble Forecast System (NAEFS), a joint project involving the National Weather Service, Meteorological Service of Canada and National Meteorological Service of Mexico, shows a 60-70 percent chance of below-normal temperatures.
The NAEFS is also predicting cooler than normal temperatures in October and November in the Southeast, with a good chance of frost coming earlier than normal.
The first frost in Wilkes County is usually Oct. 20, with a temperature of about 28 needed for it to be a “killing frost.”
The Climate Prediction Center reported that sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean are warming up, which should lead to El Niño conditions and cooler and wetter weather in the Southeast.
The Climate Prediction Center’s most recent prediction is for a 50-55 percent chance of a weak El Niño developing and lasting through 2012 – and possibly becoming stronger in 2013.
Some forecasters say a snowy winter is more likely in the Southeast when El Niño conditions are present but are weak.
Current information suggests that a weak El Niño will likely remain in place through early to mid-winter, which could result in increased precipitation and below-normal temperatures for the next few months, reported the State Climate Office of North Carolina
The State Climate Office reported that previous winters in the state with conditions similar to those that seem to be developing now include 1969-70, 1976-77 and 2004-05. Each featured a weak El Niño and other similarities, but the State Climate Office concluded that current conditions are most like those during this time in 1969.
Accuweather.com, a private weather forecasting firm, is predicting above-normal precipitation in the Gulf Coast and Southeast regions. Accuweather.com said the coming winter will be marked by big storms in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions, most likely in January and February.
“The Farmer’s Almanac” reported that after last year’s fourth warmest winter in the contiguous 48 states in records going back to in 1895, the eastern half of the nation will see plenty of cold and snow and the western half will have relatively warm and dry conditions.
“The Farmer’s Almanac” is “red flagging” Feb. 12–15 and March 20–23 for major coastal storms along the Atlantic seaboard, bringing strong wind and heavy precipitation.
The woolly worm caterpillar forecast isn’t available yet because the 35th annual Woolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk is still 10 days away.
The winner of the wooly worm race at the festival, which this year is Oct. 20-21, is used to predict the coming winter weather.
According to folklore, the number of black or brown bands of bristles on the winning woolly worm foretells the number or weeks of cold winter weather. More black bands indicates more weeks of cold and more brown bands indicates a shorter and milder winter.
The bands on last year’s winning woolly worm indicated the first four weeks (Dec. 22 to Jan. 18) and the last two weeks (March 9-22) would be cold and snowy, which didn’t quite turn out to be the case.