What to expect this winter: How accurate are long-range forecasts?

Weather

Fall is just getting started, but winter weather outlooks are already popping up.

“Long-range outlooks are basically looking at trends going into a particular season or time of year. In this case, we’re talking about winter weather,” said Storm Team 27 Meteorologist Paul Wetzl. 

That means those bright blues or reds you see on the winter outlook maps are how far it’s expected to be from the average of the last 30 years. 

“I’ve been watching long-range forecasts for a lot of years, and for the most part, you can get within a realm, but it’s extremely difficult to nail down a winter forecast,” Wetzl said. 

These “predictions” are just that — educated guesses based on future models, past climate and more.

“There’s a lot of variables stacked in on these long-range forecasts that are coming out,” Wetzl said. 

Last year’s early winter forecast predicted above-average temperatures as well as above-average precipitation, both of which were correct.

Bill Buckler, professor of Geography at Youngstown State University, cautions against going with just that forecast, however. 

“Doesn’t mean you’re not going to have below-normal temperatures or below-normal precipitation. You’re going to have variability,” he said. 

Meteorology is a relatively young science, and we have a long way to go with long-range outlooks.

“The modeling gets a little bit better. It’s never gonna be perfect because we don’t understand there’s too much chaos in the atmosphere,” Buckler said. 

So where should you look for the most-reliable outlooks? 

“I would go to a meteorologist — a long-range meteorologist that maybe that’s what they do, that’s their thing,” Wetzl said. “That long-range forecast is their thing.” 

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