Adjusting to Minnesota weather is an acquired skill. So is predicting it.
So when Minnesota meteorological sage Paul Douglas heard Thursday that national forecasters had predicted a colder, wetter winter with a swoop of polar vortex, he responded with a pause. Then he said, “Well, it’s a little like predicting now how your fantasy football team is going to be doing in January. You can’t do it.”
That didn’t stop him from venturing a prediction: This winter will be “a little more formidable” than last year’s.
Compared to the National Weather Service’s newly released outlook, that’s downright tame. The U.S. government agency forecast a warmer and drier-than-normal season in the South and West and unusually cold, wet conditions in a swath of northern states from Montana to Michigan.
And other privately owned forecast companies went so far as to predict a return visit from the dreaded polar vortex conditions of two winters ago.
Driving the forecast, the Weather Service said, is the incipient La Niña, which causes cooling of Pacific Ocean water and typically follows El Niño, which brings ocean warming.
Judah Cohen of Atmospheric and Environmental Research in Lexington, Mass., on Thursday predicted an unusually cold winter for the eastern and middle two-thirds of the nation, with especially raw weather east of the Mississippi River. Cohen, whose research is funded by the National Science Foundation and closely followed by meteorologists, linked North America’s winter weather forecast to Siberian snow cover in October.
AccuWeather, a private firm based in State College, Pa., forecast early snow in the Great Lakes region and bitter cold in the northern states.
Douglas took a more temperate approach. He expects Minnesota’s total winter snowfall to be closer to the average of 55 inches, up from the last season’s total of only 37 inches. And he predicts that overall temperatures will be lower than they were last year.
But he doesn’t expect a blockbuster winter like that of 2010-11, when 87 inches of snow delighted skiers and crushed shovelers’ spirits.
“Even though most of the winters are milder, every now and then we get spanked,” Douglas said, adding that he’s still dubious of early predictions that the polar vortex will return to the Lower 48.
“I’d love to hype it, but I think it’s buyer-beware,” he said.
Douglas noted that 2016 has been unequivocally the warmest year on record for the planet, meaning there’s lots of warm air hanging around the atmosphere.
Regardless of one’s winter weather preferences, there’s no need to panic.
The National Weather Service’s track record for predicting winter severity beats random chance by a mere 25 percent for temperature and slightly less than that for precipitation, according to Mike Halpert, deputy director of the service’s Climate Prediction Center.
In the Twin Cities, it’s late October and still above freezing. The coldest reading at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport this fall has been 36 degrees. Temperatures were last below freezing on April 12, Douglas said.
The outlook for Halloween is good — 50 degrees and no epic snowfall.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.