Winter Weather Recap

Columns - Weather

Learn what factors influenced this recent winter’s weather, and what the meteorological tea leaves say about next season’s cold and snowfall trends.

May 12, 2022

The 2021-2022 Winter season started off with a bang across portions of Mountain West into the Northern Plains, as a winter storm moved through Oct. 13-14, 2021. Areas into Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota reported 2 feet-plus of snow. Winds were strong, with reported gusts of 70-80 mph in some locations.

The next big storm held off until December when a winter storm moved through the central Rockies and Upper Midwest Dec. 10-12, 2021, bringing areas of 20 inches of snow into Colorado and South Dakota with a whopping 37.5 inches in Wyoming. In addition, markets in Michigan and Minnesota saw 10-21 inches of new snowfall. Through the end of December, a lot of the snow events were held to the west and north thanks to an upper-level ridge and above average temperatures for most of the United States.

The “Snow Hole” winter weather phenomena observed in Winter 2021-22.

But it was January when winter really got going with a winter storm across the Intermountain West into the Northeast on Jan. 2-3, 2022. While several inches of snow were recorded across the Midwest into Northeast, the Rockies ended up with 1-2 feet of snowfall. Another significant winter storm system followed on its heels Jan 3-4, 2022, bringing accumulating snowfall as far south as Alabama where areas reported up to 6-7 inches of accumulation, and portions of the Coastal Atlantic and Northeast saw more than a foot of snowfall.

The big talk, though, across portions of the Ohio Valley was the December-January “snow hole” across Illinois and Indiana. You can see the “snow hole” in the image below. Several more winter storms made their way across the US through the end of February.

While Winter 2021-2022 is becoming a distant landmark in the rearview mirror, we all recognize just how quickly the next winter season approaches. One day it is sunny and 85 degrees. Then the next thing you know it is October, the leaves are changing color, there is a chill in the air, and you are getting ready for the incoming snow and ice management season. So as always, it begs the question, what could Winter 2022-23 hold for your industry? For that we must look at ENSO.

Some long-range data suggests a more ENSO-neutral pattern that favors colder conditions across the north-central and northeastern tier of the United States, with above average temperatures across the southern US.

ENSO is the El-Niño-Southern Oscillation. This has a significant impact on the winter pattern across the United States. This winter saw a cool phase – or La Niña – which is infamous for wet, cool conditions across the Northwest and very wet conditions across the Ohio Valley with warmer than average temperatures across the southern and eastern US.

If we look at future ENSO forecasts, we see two different winter weather paths. Climate Forecast System (CFS) data, along with some of the other weather models, continues to support a cold phase – or La Niña pattern – through the remainder of 2022. This could support a forecast much like the one we witnessed for the previous winter.

The El-Niño-Southern Oscillation. This has a significant impact on the winter pattern across the United States.

However, there are some pieces of long-range data that suggest we could go into a more ENSO-neutral pattern. This pattern tends to favor colder conditions across the north-central and northeastern tier of the United States, with above average temperatures across the southern US. This tends to result from a more active polar jet stream to remain across the northern and eastern US while the subtropical jet stream focuses across northern Mexico and into Texas and the Southeast, subsequently bringing above-average precipitation across the southeastern states. This could also come with the prospect of more jet stream “phasing” across the eastern and southeastern United States, which could be a good thing for winter sports lovers and snow and ice management professionals operating across the East Coast.

Regardless, a number of meteorological questions will need answered in the coming months as to what these overall patterns will look like as we head toward Winter 2022-2023. A more accurate forecast will not become clear until we get closer to the Fall 2022 season.

In the meantime, there is no harm with snow and ice professionals maintaining a positive and optimistic attitude about the weather trends for the next snow and ice season.

A frequent Snow Magazine contributor, Joseph Cooper is the Co-owner and of Thermodynamic Solution, a private meteorological consulting firm serving the professional snow and ice industry, as well as the landscape industry, agriculture, and professional sports.