Winter 2012-2013 Snow Forecast Outlook


It’s the middle of August, the dog days of summer, and most of us are running around with shorts and t-shirts in 90+ degree temperatures. But, for those winter people out there you’ve probably noticed an increase in talk about this upcoming ski season. New 2012-2013 winter gear is starting to arrive at shops around the country and questions are being raised about this upcoming winter weather. After arguably one of the worst ski seasons on record I feel like Mother Nature owes us a good season this winter. I’ve read through many preliminary 2012-2013 winter forecasts from credible and somewhat not so credible sources and mixed in some of my own educated background in meteorology and climatology to give you my best prediction on what you can expect this winter.

First let’s talk about last winter 2011-2012. After an epic 2010-2011 record setting winter the web was flooding with comments about a possible repeat epic winter. This is largely due to a negative NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) over the summer of 2011. During the winter a negative NAO correlates to cold temperatures and above average snowfall for the east and, 9 out of 10 times, a negative summer NAO leads to a negative winter NAO. What happened last winter was that 1/10 chance falling in to place when the NAO suddenly went positive as highlighted in Figure 1 below.

The large amounts of snow in the cascades and parts of Alaska can be attributed the La Nina winter but at the same time it was responsible for below normal snow packs around Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. With the exception of a few isolated cases like Fox Creek and Steamboat Springs Colorado the skiing was pretty pathetic for these states which also lead to the drought conditions and high fire dangers we’re seeing this summer in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

The good news is that the patterns that caused the historically warm and dry winter of 2011-2012 have almost or completely changed. In Figure 1 above you can see we are in a strong negative NAO and this should continue on through winter bringing cold temperatures and higher than average snowfall to the northeast. From the data I’ve seen it looks like we are also in for a weak El-Nino so the mid-Rockies (CO, UT, and WY) can expect a big improvement over last winter. Although they will see about average to slightly above average snowfalls there is still the possibility for localized record setters and let’s not forget that even an average winter for those states can be pretty epic. The weak El-Nino could be bad news for the north east and Montana because any kind of El-Nino event usually brings dryer and warmer conditions to these areas. But it’s only a weak El-Nino so it might not actually be that bad, it just won’t be as epic for the north west as last winter.

For those of you that skimmed past all of the above explanation, here’s the bottom line. Northeast, you could be in for an epic ski season; CO, UT, and WY can expect average temperatures and snowfall but still a heck of a lot more snow than last year. For the northwest and Montana it will be a little dry but probably not as bad as the mid Rockies saw last winter. For those of you that like to rely on the time tested forecasting methods here is the Farmer’s Almanac 2012-2013 winter forecast. It differs a little from mine but it’s still early and there are a lot of other factors that can dramatically change the winter forecast with short notice.

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10 Responses to Winter 2012-2013 Snow Forecast Outlook

  1. Megan says:

    I really hope your winter predictions are right, i live in Pa and would love to have a snowy winter. Last Winter sucked

    • Alan P. says:

      For the east we just got to keep an eye on that NAO. Hopefully it will stay negative through the winter like it usually does, with the exception of last winter, and that would mean lots of snow for you.

  2. Ann Borgione says:

    thanks for a forecast I could understand….hope it’s true!

  3. Scott Hillyer says:

    Thanks for the forecast. We really hope it’s true out here in Colorado!

    • Alan P. says:

      It looks like that El Nino is still developing so if it continues on its current path we should expect a pretty average (much better than last year) winter in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming .

  4. Robin Sweeten says:

    I hope and pray that your predictions for Colorado are correct. It is so incredibly dry here…it’s scarey. If It continues, I am afraid Colorado will turn into a desert. I know there isn’t a thing I can do about it, but with crops failing and ranchers selling off their herds due to drought I worry about having water to drink. Already Fort Collins is talking about taking away water shares from farmers…………….people can water their lawns????????????????????????? The sitation is extremely serious, and people just don’t see it.

    • Alan P. says:

      Hey Robin,

      As you probably saw, this forecast was put together almost 4 months ago in august and a few things have changed since then. Things are still holding strong for the east coast. The strong negative NAO combined with a positive EPO (low pressure south of Alaska) will continue to bring cold temperatures and frequent “Nor’easters” to the east. The west coast is a different story. Everything has fallen apart since August. The ENSO was trending toward a moderate El Nino back in august but as it moved from the La Nina we had for the past two winters it stalled out in a neutral phase, meaning neither El Nino nor La Nina will exist. With El Nino and La Nina being the major driving force for winter weather in the west, their absence opens a can of worms for an unmentionable number of other factors to dictate the winter weather. Its been very warm and dry in Colorado and Wyoming for November and, so far, for the first week of December. This trend will most likely continue for the first half of December. Don’t get too depressed yet, we know the La Nina from last winter is gone and the neutral ENSO gives the possibility for just about anything to happen. It could be another bust of a winter or it could be an epic wither with a late start. Some good news to leave you with, snow cover in Canada is above normal for October and November. If this continues it will cause the jet stream to stay further south bringing colder temperatures and stronger storms.

  5. A E says:


    Do you think it would be worth the risk to buy a “cheap” mid-March ski trip to the Northern Berkshires of MA?

    I also have an early March offer for a NH (Lincoln) trip, but it is ~4 hours further away.

    Would love to hit the Berkshires, but I’m worried the slopes will be nothing but grass like last year.

    • Alan P. says:

      Well, given that I live in the west my outlook for the east coast is purely analytical but I do see some promising signs. For one, the snow depth from this day (Jan 8th) is much greater than it was this day last year. See for yourself:

      Last year: 1/8/2012

      This Year: 1/8/2013

      and the NAO is still negative which typically leads to colder temperatures and more frequent snow storms. This time last year the NAO was still recovering from a nearly 20 year record positive. Those two things considered I would say you have a pretty good chance of seeing snow on the ground come mid March.

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