Winter Weather Outlook: What can we expect, and how is it forecast?

Weather Blog

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Winter got off to a quick start in Southern New England as a nor’easter dropped roughly 8 to 14 inches of snow across Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts on Dec. 16-17, 2020.

Just under 8 inches of snowfall was recorded at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick.

In winter 2018-19, Providence saw a total of 29.4 inches of snow, with February and March being the snowiest months of this season at 9.7 inches and 11.8 inches, respectively.

The following winter was far less snowy, with just 13.2 inches accumulating in total. For what it’s worth, December 2019 was the snowiest month of last season with 8 inches of snow.

So how do the last two winters compare to our current season? Well, for starters, we saw a very early but minor snowfall of 1.6 inches in October. (Remember that?)

As for the rest of the season, we’ve seen 8.4 inches of snow, all of which has fallen in December.

How is the rest of winter shaping up?

The upcoming weather pattern continues to look fairly active during the middle and end of January. Now, that doesn’t mean that Southern New England is guaranteed to see winter storms. Often times, storms form and pass offshore, leaving us with cold temperatures and sunny skies.

As of right now, our area is on pace for an average winter in terms of snowfall, which is about 35 inches.

With that said, whenever the threat is there, it’s worth watching for any potential impacts.

What are some ways to forecast weather patterns and storms?

The first is taking a look at what type of pattern we’re seeing. This winter is more reminiscent of a La Niña pattern which is opposite of the more well-known El Niño. Both are relative to ocean temperatures in the Pacific.

La Niña typically occurs when the Pacific Ocean has below-normal water temperatures or cooler waters at the surface.

Adversely, El Niño typically occurs when the Pacific Ocean has above-normal water temperatures or warmer waters at the surface.

So, what do we typically see here in Southern New England during a La Niña winter?

In a typical La Niña pattern, the area sees average amounts of precipitation. So far this winter, the Providence area is just about an inch short of the normal value in terms of snowfall.

The below graphic is reflective of NOAA’s Winter Outlook, forecasting average precipitation for our area. This was created and released back on Oct. 22.

NOAA’s forecast also hints at overall above average temperatures across New England.

A lot of our weather locally relies on the North Atlantic Oscillation, or NAO. It’s the difference in atmospheric pressure in areas across the globe, and the influences it has are useful for forecasting since the NAO can impact storm tracks and also the location of cold arctic air.

It’s one of the more important and accurate tools when it comes to forecasting winter weather, especially along the East Coast.

When the NAO goes negative, a colder and stormy pattern sets up along our coast

Due to the fluidity of the atmosphere, this mainly is useful for short-term storm threats.

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