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In the winter, skiers, snowboarders and schoolchildren look to the sky for one thing — snow.

So what will Old Man Winter bring this year? It’s too early to tell, said climatologist Harald Strauss, who explains that predicting the winter season is hardly a science.

"You predict the solar cycle. You forecast the stratospheric conditions. Then you look at what happened in the summer and the fall, and then you look at November," he said. "And then you can predict the winter."

Still, when encouraged, he bravely made a prediction: "Skiers will have their snow, but it just won’t be in abundance," said Strauss, who works at the Air Force’s 21st Operational Weather Squadron in Sembach, Germany.

Temperatures are expected to be colder than usual during the winter months, he said, which is good news for skiers and snowboarders because it should allow European ski parks to create snow. Strauss also predicted a large snowfall around Thanksgiving, so get those skis waxed and tuned.

"In the Alps," Strauss said, "when the big snow comes in November, it usually stays there."

As for the overall season, Strauss said there will be less snow than last year, when both the northern and southern facing Alps were hit by heavy snowstorms.

"It won’t be as much snow," Strauss said, "but it should be enough to keep the skiers happy."

David Sowell, president of the Kaiserslautern-West Pfalz Ski Club, is gearing up for his first weekend of skiing on Thanksgiving. He does not glance at the weather and snow reports until a week before he heads to the slopes.

"Whether the snow is there or not, you don’t have any option," he said. "In the past, we have done a few snow dances, but they haven’t been very effective."

Not relying on his dancing skills, Sowell said he uses the ski club’s Web site — which has links to local ski areas in Switzerland, Austria and France — to check whether he’ll be making fresh tracks or wading through slush. The ski parks also have streaming cameras, so that visitors can peek at the snowfall, before they arrive.

Nature has its own way of predicting the weather. Just grab an onion. A catchy verse of weather lore says, "Onion skins thick and tough, coming winter cold and rough."

Or grab a woolly bear caterpillar. One bit of folklore claims you can predict the harshness of the winter by the size of the caterpillar’s dark bands, another by how fuzzy its coat is.

For Sowell, all forms of snowfall predictions are meaningless when it comes to skiing.

"The ski conditions might not be great," he said, "but I’ve never had a bad day on the slopes."


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