SHERIDAN — Northern Wyoming can expect average winter temperatures and plenty of snow this year according to predictions, a boon for winter sports enthusiasts like skiers and snowmobilers.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center releases ongoing forecasts of nationwide temperatures and precipitation in three-month segments.
This year, the December to February report predicts an equal chance of above, below and average temperatures for the next three months and above average precipitation. The current outlook was released in October but revised in November.
According to the outlook, temperatures will remain above average through December, and precipitation predictions remain above average through February.
“When it sits there and looks continuous over a couple periods like that, you expect to be looking at the above normal precipitation,” Director of the Wyoming Climate Office Tony Bergantino said.
Bob Setzenfand, a meteorologist with NOAA in Billings, said the storm track this year runs from the northwestern to central United States, cutting through Wyoming.
The band of above average snowfall runs diagonally through Wyoming, so predictions for much of the southern and western portions of the state are less confident, but Sheridan is far enough to the north and east to be firmly in the above average zone for snowfall, according to Bergantino.
“They tend to use the El Niño, La Niña oscillation a lot, but this winter there is not a clear signal, so it’s going to be shorter-term type fluctuations that are going to happen,” Setzenfand said. “I would expect changeable conditions that will be cold, but then there will be times that it warms up.”
Bergantino said NOAA often looks at winters with analogous conditions on the El Niño system from many years ago to incorporate past patterns into their models.
However, there is a neutral system this year with little activity, which gives forecasters much less indication of storms than in a year with a stronger system.
“They often use that for a starting point when they’re doing some of their outlooks, but when we’re in such a weak, weak phase right now, there’s nothing that you can pull from that really to guide your estimates,” Bergantino said.
NOAA predicts the neutral condition, which began in July, will remain in place through the 2019-2020 northern hemisphere winter.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac titled its annual prediction “A Parade of Snowstorms,” predicting a steady string of distinct storm systems for Montana and Northern Wyoming.
“That’s what’s kind of showing up when you look at the precipitation outlook, when you start looking at it you see that it’s continuously in that chance for above normal, so there’s some pretty good skill at that then,” Bergantino said.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac also predicts the coldest temperatures of the year to come at the end of December and from late January to mid-February.
Bergantino said the only real way to predict the length of winter is to look at the average temperatures in the later months, but this year shows little confidence.