Maryland-based Almanac Says Snow, Others Say Mild Winter Ahead

By DAN LAMOTHE, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON (November 23, 2007) - The Maryland-based "Hagers-Town Town & Country Almanack" sees snow ahead for the state, bucking forecasts from foreign sources calling for a mild winter.

Bill O'Toole, prognosticator for the 211-year-old Almanack, said he anticipates the snowiest and coldest winter in Maryland in three years.

"I'm predicting some pretty large snowstorms, especially in January," said O'Toole, who has forecast weather in the Almanack since 1969. "We'll probably get one in the first week and one in the last week of January."

That contrasts with predictions made by sources as varied as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and "The Old Farmer's Almanac," the one continuously-published almanac in the U.S. older than Hagerstown's.

NOAA's long-range winter forecast calls for mild temperatures across Maryland and much of the United States thanks in part to La Nina, an ocean atmospheric phenomenon where the equatorial eastern central Pacific Ocean's temperature drops substantially for at least five months. Historically, it has meant warmer temperatures across the country, including in Maryland.

"Really, a good portion of the U.S. can expect above-average temperatures this year," said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center Camp Springs. "There's also a trend for warmer winters across the country in the last 10 years, especially in the Midwest."

"The Old Farmer's Almanac," meanwhile, mirrors NOAA's science-based forecast. It calls for a drier, milder winter in Maryland, with temperatures about a degree warmer than normal and snowfall slightly below average, said Heidi Stonehill, a senior associate editor.

All three sources said it is difficult to predict long-term forecasts by any methodology.

"Sometimes, we are different," Stonehill said. "I'm not sure what organizations like the National Weather Service use, but we place lots of emphasis on the solar science, climatology and meteorology."

Historically, Maryland averages about 20 inches of snow per year, although that varies wildly between urban areas, the Eastern Shore and mountainous regions like Garrett County. Temperatures can also fluctuate wildly between regions of the state, with central and western Maryland the coldest.

Maryland climatologists said history shows a mild winter in years where La Nina is present is the most likely, although there are deviations from that rule.

"What exactly happens in specific parts of the country depends on the position of the jet stream," said Eugenia E. Kalnay, a meteorologist at the University of Maryland, College Park. "Odds are, though, they (NOAA) will be right."

O'Toole said he isn't concerned about his predictions being different than the rest—especially since he has been right before with surprise weather events, like a snowstorm in February 2000 that caught many meteorologists by surprise.

"They'll admit that anything farther out than a week or so is just an educated guess," O'Toole said of science-based meteorologists. "Very often, what they predict for nine days out will change, so the technology really doesn't give you a great advantage with long-term forecasts."

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