The other day, I came across a woolly bear caterpillar.
Thinking of the tale that the coloration of these insects offers a possible glimpse of future winter weather, I leaned down, watched it for a bit, took a photograph, and left it to continue on its journey. Later, I did some research into woolly bear caterpillars, which are fuzzy caterpillars with black ends and a red-brown midsection. Legend has it that a larger red-brown section foretells a mild winter.
No caterpillar photos were available to compare mine with, however, and I wasn't sure what constituted a 'larger' section. Furthermore, I learned that the respective color lengths may be influenced by severity of the previous winter, amount of rainfall over the spring and summer, and differing varieties of woolly bear. In short, I learned a bit about caterpillars but nothing about what the coming winter might be like. I decided to look elsewhere.
Because some weather patterns tend to persist over long periods of time, looking at the present and recent past may give us clues as to what the future will hold. As everyone in Addison County is well aware, the last year has been marked by very high quantities of rain and snow, and in some areas this calendar year may end up going down as the wettest year on record. Last winter was seasonably cold, and last summer was not particularly hot, especially compared to the summer before. If the current weather pattern continues, we can expect above-average rain and snow through the next few months.
The Pacific Ocean is currently experiencing a phase of ocean and wind currents known as La Nina. In Vermont, La Nina generally brings near-average winter temperatures, and sometimes wetter (snowier) than average weather. Last year, the Earth experienced a La Nina pattern and Vermont, sure enough, experienced a seasonably cold winter with lots of snowfall.
NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) just issued their winter forecast, which shows no strong temperature or precipitation trends for Vermont. However, the forecast mentions that there is some potential for a snowier than average winter based on an effect called the Arctic Oscillation. Dr. Jeff Masters of Wunderground.com elaborated on this by describing how near-record low Arctic Ocean sea ice cover can, surprisingly, influence the Arctic Oscillation and actually lead to cold, snowy winters in New England. The Farmer's Almanac and Accu-Weather
What do I think? I mostly agree with the other forecasts. Vermont has been wet and stormy for the past year, and it seems likely that the wet pattern will continue, bringing above average snowfall. The forecasts seem to call for 'clipper' type storms rather than nor'easters, which seems reasonable. This might mean that instead of a few dumpings, we'd get many smaller storms that would keep piling on the snow. It also means that far southern Vermont might get less snow. We can probably expect at least one period of temperatures well below zero, especially if the Arctic Oscillation is in a position to funnel cold air into the state. I also expect at least one or two midwinter thaws with rain that could cause ice jam flooding, and perhaps also some near-thaws with wintry mix and freezing rain. The amount of snow remaining on the ground throughout the winter depends not just on the amount of snowfall, but also the timing of any thaws.
What do you think? If you have ideas on what this winter may hold, feel free to add your thoughts!