After Sandy: What Kind of Winter Can We Expect?

Last winter much of the U.S. saw hardly any snow. This season could be dramatically different, says Paul Pastelok, long-range forecaster for AccuWeather, the private weather service based in State College, Pennsylvania.

Why do you think we’ll see more snow this year?

We’re already seeing snow laying down from western Canada through the northern plains and prairies of the U.S. We had some pretty intense cold air masses coming down from the north in September. Last year, we were missing the cold. When we had systems, they were mostly rain.

What’s different this year?

Last year we had mostly a single, northern jet stream track most of the year. This year we’re seeing two strong jet streams setting up—a northern jet bringing polar air to the Eastern U.S. and a southern jet bringing moisture from the southeast Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s just a matter of time before these two come together along the East Coast. Combined with water temperatures running warmer than normal in the Atlantic, that could lead to a couple of big events—and more frequent events—in the snow category, especially as we get into January.

You’re talking about cities like Philadelphia and Washington?

That’s right. We’re predicting above normal snowfall from southern New England through those big cities down through the southern Appalachians.

Meanwhile, you’re forecasting a relatively dry winter for the northwest U.S.?

Yes, from Portland down through central California, precipitation is likely to be well below normal this year. Drought is still persistent right now across the Rockies and the plains, although they’re going to see some relief this month. They’re going to get some snowstorms in the plains—blizzard conditions.

Sounds like a lot of volatility in the weather this winter.

Absolutely. It may stay kind of la-di-dah for six, seven, eight, or nine days, and then boom, an extreme event will take place.

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
Peter Miller is a senior editor on National Geographic Magazine.