By CHRISTOPHER CAREY
ANNAPOLIS (Dec. 13, 2008)—The State Highway Administration is prepared for anything the winter season throws its way, with more than 336,000 tons of salt at the ready to keep roads safe and clear of snow and ice.
That much salt has not been needed since 2002-2003, an exceptionally snowy winter season.
"Since October, we have been in winter weather mode," said Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration.
But weather forecasters disagree about whether this winter will be a bit warmer than usual, or significantly colder. And nobody seems to know how much snow to expect, or how much salt will be needed.
"Temperatures ... will run a little [higher] than average," said Jeff Johnson, a certified consulting meteorologist for DTN/Meteorlogix.
DTN/Meteorlogix provides weather information to more than 20,000 customers, including the Maryland Department of Transportation.
"The east side [of Maryland] will be wetter than average, but most of the precipitation will be in the form of rain," Johnson said.
DTN/Meteorlogix predicts weather patterns by looking at the temperature of the Pacific Ocean for any El Nino or La Nina behavior. Johnson said that a weak La Nina is expected during the winter season.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, La Nina is the occurrence of unusually cold temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, causing winter temperatures to be warmer than normal in the Southeast United States.
Johnson said this year's La Nina effect is tough to predict.
But not everybody agrees with DTN/Meteorlogix.
"[Maryland will be] colder and snowier than normal," said Janice Stillman, the editor of the Old Farmer's Almanac, based in New Hampshire.
The Old Farmer's Almanac has been published each year since 1792, and boasts that it is accurate approximately 80 percent of the time.
"December will be 5 degrees below average," said Stillman.
The Old Farmer's Almanac also predicts that Maryland will experience a very cold Christmas, followed by a snowstorm to kick off the 2009 calendar year.
"Global warming is over," said Stillman. "[The world] will experience a gradual cooling of the atmosphere. We could very well be experiencing global cooling."
Stillman's argument is based on what she describes as historical weather cycles and how they relate to solar activity. She acknowledged that there are more greenhouse gases in our atmosphere than ever, some of them released by human technologies that emit pollution.
"[Greenhouse gases] may mitigate global cooling," Stillman said.
Stillman's prognosis for global cooling is not shared by most scientists, who believe that greenhouse gas concentrations are responsible for a continuing pattern of global warming.
The Old Farmer's Almanac uses three disciplines in their weather prediction: solar science, climatology and meteorology. According to Stillman, many meteorologists do not take the sun into account when making predictions.
Though the early days of December have been relatively cold, DTN/Meteorlogix does not see any cause for worry.
"We're not expecting [cold weather] to linger," said Johnson.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.