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Winter Weather outlook for Southwestern Ohio: Mild and dry...probably

A dozen ODOT crews are plowing the roads in Preble County.
An ODOT truck plows the roads in Preble County in 2022. A mild and dry winter weather outlook is predicted for southwestern Ohio, but weather officials say snowstorms are still possible.

The winter weather outlook for Southwestern Ohio is calling for a warmer and drier winter compared to normal levels. What is causing this prediction, and why winter weather forecasting can be difficult?

Temperatures have been unseasonably warm lately. But winter will come to Southwest Ohio. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has published its annual winter weather outlook for the country.

WYSO’s Mike Frazier spoke with Logan Clark, a Meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Wilmington, about what the outlook predicts for Southwest Ohio, the reason for that forecast, and why predicting snowfall totals can be difficult.

Meteorologist Logan Clark: They're actually favoring, at least for the Ohio Valley, favoring above normal temperature values, at least when you're averaging it over the December, January, and February time period. And that's also coupled with, as far as precipitation outlook, a below normal precipitation value, at least again, compared to what the average is between the months of December through February.

Mike Frazier: So conceivably, could that mean warmer temperatures, which means less potential for snow; and lower precipitation, which means a potential for less snow?

Logan: That's certainly a possibility that it could translate to less than average snowfall, at least during the winter season for the Ohio Valley.

Mike: How did they come to this determination, this forecast?

Logan: We are observing an El Nino. An El Nino is defined by above normal sea surface temperatures. You might wonder, well, what do ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific have anything to do with what we're going to see here in the Ohio Valley? And the crazy part is, that ocean temperature in those locations near the equatorial Pacific — they actually can have an influence of what happens up around us. The ocean and atmosphere are always constantly interacting with each other.

Mike: So this is a general projection based on past data when the ocean waters have been warmer than they have been in general climate history. There's a strong likelihood, in other words, of a warmer, drier winter than in previous years.

Logan: Right. But again, I think the thing to keep in mind is that sometimes it just takes one really good winter storm. If it just aligns itself up in the right location, has a lot of extra moisture and stuff associated with it...sometimes it can take one really good winter storm and that just completely sways your snowfall totals or something like that for that particular winter season.

Mike: So the likelihood is high of a warm, dry winter, but it's not 100%.

Logan: That is correct.

Mike: Is it fair to say, too, that there are so many factors that go into a forecast that if one factor changes, it can cause a chain reaction that causes other factors to change and therefore the end result (is) a snow storm or lack thereof can happen because of those factor changes.

Logan: Yeah, that's another great point to bring up. Maybe you have five ingredients that you need to kind of have [to get] the perfect storm. And, models are suggesting you're going to end up with all five. And the trends are certainly that way. And it arrives. And all of a sudden now you have only four out of the five. And that one missing ingredient is really an additional key piece to kind of maybe getting that perfect storm or kind of maybe busting that forecast that was expected across the area.

Mike: Why is it so difficult to determine exactly how much snow is going to fall for a storm? Or are people, quite frankly, asking for too much when they want specific precipitation amounts?

Logan: Sometimes the storm system — a minor shift in the track can completely change the amount of projected snowfall for one particular location. So sometimes it boils down to that. Another thing to keep in mind is that there's a lot of smaller scale processes that can change the intensity, I think, of these systems as they move in. Even within one county, you can have a gradient of multiple inches of snowfall. People in the Northwest part of the county could end up with two to three more inches than the Southeast part of the county.

Mike: In spite of all the studies that have been done over the 150 odd years and all the supercomputers churning out data, it's still sometimes hard to get everything down to a super accurate forecast because the atmosphere has a mind of its own?

Logan: Absolutely.

That was Logan Clark, a Meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Wilmington, speaking with WYSO’s Mike Frazier.

A chance meeting with a volunteer in a college computer lab in 1987 brought Mike to WYSO. He started filling in for various music shows, and performed various production, news, and on-air activities during the late 1980s and 90s, spinning vinyl and cutting tape before the digital evolution.