Weather offices: Winter shaping up as average
London might have experienced its first October snowfall in 70 years last week, but does that mean folks living in Europe can expect a harsh winter?
By American reckoning, winter doesn’t officially begin until Dec. 21. That’s a long time away when it comes to weather forecasting.
But, using a combination of historical records, weather models and current data, Capt. Jeanne Szczes of the Air Force’s 21st Operational Weather Squadron in Sembach, Germany, can hazard an educated guess.
"Our best guess right now is that it’s going to be average," she said.
That probably means more snow — and better skiing — than last year, but not likely enough to be an excuse for most Americans living in Europe to miss any work or school.
Szczes said she can’t be held responsible if that prediction isn’t accurate, though. Trying to guess what the weather will be so far in advance is an inexact science.
She said predicting winter weather at this point "is not really a forecast. It’s more like an outlook. A forecast, we can only do for a week."
Deutscher Wetterdienst — Germany’s version of the National Weather Service — doesn’t attempt to predict that far in advance, either. But a forecast placed online by Britain’s Met Office isn’t too far away from the Air Force’s best guesses.
"Winter temperatures are more likely to be above average over much of Europe," according to the forecast. "However, this winter is likely to be less mild than last winter, when above-average temperatures were widespread."
The British agency uses an average culled from 1971 to 2000, according to the report.
"Over much of northwest Europe and the Mediterranean, the odds for warmer-than-normal versus colder-than-normal are at least 60/40," according to the report.
So what’s normal or average?
Europe is large enough that there isn’t a simple answer to that question.
Szczes said geographical factors such as the Alps and the Atlantic Ocean play a big role in weather patterns.
Unpredictable factors (called "chaos" in the British forecast) can affect entire regions or just specific locations.
Northern Italy has seen examples of that with a pair of freak storms in the past three summers that have caused widespread devastation around Aviano Air Base but nothing of note in Vicenza, just about 90 miles to the southwest.
So "average" can vary quite a bit based on factors such as elevation and proximity to mountains or bodies or water.
Ramstein Air Base, for instance, sees about a foot of snow each year from November through February, according to Szczes.
Aviano sees only a fraction of that. It only saw a dusting last year.
Many locations around Europe didn’t see a lot of snow last year. That included some of the favorite destinations for American skiers. The Met Office’s forecast doesn’t address snow.
It predicts less rain for places such as RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath, but says it’s too early to tell if precipitation will be less or greater than average.
Winter begins earlier in some European calendars, though.
In Ireland, Saturday was the first day of winter. In others, Nov. 11 marks the onset of the season.
Several American military communities in southern Germany might get a glimpse of winter weather this week, with light snowfalls predicted.
Szczes said servicemembers can get more reliable forecasts up to five days in advance online at ows.public.sembach.af.mil.
But, for the most part, those wondering how cold it’ll be this winter will just have to wait.