KNOXVILLE (WATE) – What will winter be like? It’s a question I get asked every year.
This year I decided to enlist an aspiring meteorologist, Hayden Harrell and his third grade class at Clinton Elementary School to help with my forecast. You may remember Hayden from his winter weather report last winter. While Hayden’s classmates want “tons of snow” so they can build snowmen and go ice fishing, his teacher, Denise Bulecheck is not so excited about snow days.
“I would love to go ice fishing. I would like it to be just cold enough that we could have a couple of snow days and then we could do lots of good study for our weather unit and a little ice fishing will be good, too,” said Bulecheck.
Hayden’s principal, Jenna Sharp, also hopes for an easy winter. “When I think about the learning that needs to take place, I hope that old man winter takes it easy on us,” said Sharp. “However, for the students, I think that maybe a couple of snow days, we could get by with.”
There are tons of factors that go into a winter weather forecast. Some I trust and others not so much.
We’ve had a dry summer and I expect that trend to continue through fall and into winter. Temperatures will remain at or slightly above average with limited moisture.
East Tennessee will have better opportunities for snow late in winter as the drought lightens it’s grip. The average annual snowfall for Knoxville is 6.4 inches. I’m predicting 5-9 inches in Knoxville from a few small events.
I predict, the Plateau, which stands at about 2,800 feet will see around 10 inches of snowfall. On average they typically receive about twelve inches.
The Smokies, which sit at a much higher elevation, will see somewhere between 12 inches at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to 90 inches on Mt. LeConte.
Part of the reason I expect a dry start to winter with better opportunities for snow later in winter is due to the ongoing drought and because of something called the North Atlantic Oscillation.
The North Atlantic Oscillation consists of two pressure centers in the North Atlantic: one is an area of low pressure typically located near Iceland, and the other an area of high pressure over an island chain located in the eastern Atlantic Ocean called the Azores. Fluctuations in the strength of these features significantly alters the alignment of the jet stream, especially over Tennessee and ultimately affect temperature and precipitation.
During a positive North Atlantic Oscillation, there is a strengthening of the Icelandic low and Azores high. This typically causes a decreased potential for winter weather in Tennessee due to a lack of cold air and above average temperatures. During a negative North Atlantic Oscillation, both the Icelandic low and Azores high weaken which allows cold air to build over Canada and an increased potential for winter weather in Tennessee.
This winter I expect the North Atlantic Oscillation to fluctuate. This rotation will leave little opportunity for cold air early in the winter, however a late winter cold is possible because of La Nina.
A weak La Nina tends to bring warmer air to the southeast. My friends at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tell me they expect a weak La Nina this winter, which means increased chances for both precipitation and higher temperatures for the southeast, an area that has been warmer than normal all fall.
That’s why I’m predicting a slow start to winter, with some snow later in the season. However, no matter what happens this winter, the WATE 6 Storm Team will be here to cover for you.
Make sure to download our WATE 6 On Your Side News app or Knoxville Weather app to keep up to date with big changes in the weather on the go. Sing up for push alerts for school closings and winter weather updates.
How accurate was last year’s forecast?
Last year, I predicted:
- Highs in the 50s and lows in the 30s for Thanksgiving
- Thumbs down for a white Christmas
- Significantly less snowfall than year’s past and more freezing rain, sleet and wintry-mix
- 4-9 inches of snow in Knoxville
In Thanksgiving 2015, temperatures were around 37 degrees in the morning and climbed to 57 degrees by around noon, when it was time to eat some turkey.
We definitely didn’t have a white Christmas, in fact you may have needed to pull out some shades. December 24 tied a record for the warmest Christmas Eve on record.
Last year was also warmer than usual. We had two big snow events for a combined total of 5.2 inches of snow.