Forecast for winter: Not quite as cold as last year

07/10/2011 9:13 PM

07/10/2011 9:13 PM

We interrupt this sizzling summer to cast a glance at the coming winter — if only to feel a bit cooler for a few moments.

AccuWeather has released its winter forecast, and most folks in the Wichita area will consider it good news.

"It's not a simple answer as to what will take place across Kansas," said Ken Reeves, AccuWeather's director of forecasting.

Generally speaking, however, "it will not be as cold as it was last year," he said, "and the perception will probably be that it is not as harsh a winter for you."

Wichita's average temperature was three degrees

below normal from December through February, and complaints about the never-ending cold became common among local residents.

Kansas winters often feature warm spells that help break up the winter doldrums, but they were historically absent last winter.

For the first time since records began being kept in Wichita in 1889, the temperature did not reach 60 once between Dec. 1 and Feb. 28.

But a La Nina — the name for when equatorial waters of the Pacific are cooler than normal — has developed, Reeves said. That typically means it will be warmer and drier this winter over the southern tier of the U.S., Reeves said.

"My gut feeling is that Wichita will err more toward that pattern" than the harsh cold and heavy snow being forecast for the northern Great Plains and the Pacific Northwest, he said.

"It doesn't mean it can't snow and there won't be the occasional cold air mass," he said.

In fact, the Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is forecasting a normal winter for Kansas — meaning temperatures and precipitation totals will be pretty typical for the season.

Wichita averages a bit more than 16 inches of snow a winter, based on the past 30 years.

Last winter, Wichita recorded 15.1 inches of snow.

While this winter may not be as harsh as last year's, Reeves said, that may not prove as welcome as folks expect.

The region may be more prone to ice storms, he said, because the arctic air masses may not slide far enough south to ensure that precipitation falls as snow. Instead, rain may fall from upper elevations and freeze on the way down.

And the yo-yoing temperatures may tax immune systems more significantly than a persistently cold winter, he said.

That could leave residents more vulnerable to whatever illnesses are sweeping the area.

"Those are all interesting conjectures," Reeves said.

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