The Grinch and NOAA Are Stealing Winter. Prediction Center Says La Nina Is to Blame

Expectations are a funny thing. They can either prepare us or crush us, and for the past 20-odd years, winter in the Mid-Atlantic states has more or less been crushing me. Each year I think it will be “normal” again. Meaning the frost will actually be on the pumpkin in October and that the sky will paint itself a gunmetal gray in November. The air will turn frigid and at turns quiet, pregnant with the promise of a good snow storm. At least that’s how it used to be. Predictable, terrible winter.

And my expectations are grounded in accurate history. Growing up inside the Washington beltway I can recall wearing jackets to the school bus stop in September and feeling the crunch of frosted grass beneath my feet. Halloween was almost always cold. As a young adult, I have many memories of walking home from the Metro on a week night with my fingers numb with cold and my cheeks stinging from the wind. Today, not so much. And it’s confusing. You don’t know how to dress and the constant fluctuations between highs in the mid 60s and 70s punctuated with just a few chilly days here and there is, well, pissing me off. And it looks as if we are in for more of the same this year.

The NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center released its U.S. Winter Outlook on October 19, 2017, and says that La Nina is potentially emerging for the second year in a row as the biggest wildcard in how this year’s winter will play out. And it’s that naughty La Nina that’s to blame for our mild winters. According to Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center: “Typical La Nina patterns during winter include above average precipitation and colder than average temperatures along the northern tier of the United States and below normal precipitation and drier conditions across the South.” Sigh.

So if NOAA’s Prediction Center is on target, we are in for more of the same warmer than normal temperatures across the southern two-thirds of the United States and the East Coast. The trend for the past 20 years, with some anomalies, has been that the we have been stuck in a long-term La Nina pattern that is bringing warmer winters to the Mid-Atlantic states—and I couldn’t be more disappointed.

For those of us who remember when seasons were more predictable, we fondly recount to our children and anyone else who will listen the Presidents Day Storm of February 1979, the worst storm in 57 years to strike the Washington area. The white stuff piled up to 20 inches over Northern Virginia and Maryland and the snow fell—at times—2 to 3 inches per hour while the temperatures were in the single digits to teens. I was a teenager in 1979 and it was the most exciting thing in the world to see literal walls of snow and to be holed up with your best friend listening to WPGC on the radio.

The 1979 Presidents Day storm buried Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area for days. It was the worst storm to hit the D.C. area in 57 years.

Then there was the March 1993 “Superstorm” that hit while I was living in western Maryland. The storm was blamed for some 200 deaths and cost $2 billion to repair damages and remove snow. Although the Washington area saw just 8 inches to the southeast of the city, 13 inches in the District and within the beltway, winds produced blizzard conditions over portions of northern Virginia and central and western Maryland with snow drifts of up to 12 feet.

It was the most dangerous storm I ever witnessed. Hurricane force winds battered the back of our house with such force, it made snowdrifts that reached clear to the top of the house. Interstates shut down, and shelters opened for nearly 4,000 stranded motorists and those left without heat and electricity. The National Guard was even called in to help with emergency transport and snow removal.

Hagerstown, Maryland. This mountain of snow made it to the top of the garage after the blizzard in 1993. Weeks after the storm blew through, my daughter can still almost reach the roof standing in the snow.

In light of this, perhaps it’s just crazy that I am longing for a good cold winter, but I like to be able to fit my seasons in a neat box and enjoy each one. I don’t want to cook a turkey on Thanksgiving Day when it’s 65 degrees outside. I want my winter fantasy of snow-covered roads, crackling fires, steamy windows, and the smell of pine as I stare at my twinkling Christmas lights on a bleak cold day.

My fondest childhood memories were first sledding with the neighborhood children and then with my own. There’s just nothing better than when the world goes quiet after a righteous snow storm. So call me crazy, but I’m not happy about another year of not wearing my Christmas sweater or cooking my turkey with the air condition on. The world truly has gone mad and I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the seasons match my memories and traditions. Reign well.