Winter will be typical, say forecasts

11/16/2009 10:15 AM

11/16/2009 10:15 AM

The coldest October in Wichita history and a robust storm that brought snow and near-blizzard conditions to northwest Kansas last week likely has local folks shuddering about the upcoming winter.

But forecasting models suggest Wichita's winter will be fairly typical.

"It looks like it's going to be pretty normal — nothing to really pop your eyes out about," said Andy Kleinsasser, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wichita.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's winter outlook calls for normal precipitation and somewhat above-average temperatures from December through February.

That's pretty typical for Kansas during an El Nino, the name for a slight warming of Pacific Ocean waters.

The cyclical pattern can significantly change weather patterns for some parts of the world, bringing wet winters to Texas and the southeastern United States and drought to Australia.

But only a strong El Nino seems to affect Kansas winters much, Kleinsasser said, and this one isn't going to reach that threshold.

"Since we're in the middle of the continent, it's a lot tougher to predict the effect," he said.

So many other factors weigh in by the time weather patterns reach Kansas that it's difficult to pinpoint what's responsible, he said.

If NOAA's temperature forecasts are accurate, NWS meteorologist Brad Ketcham said it's possible more of Wichita's winter precipitation could come down as rain instead of snow.

"You're still going to have some bouts of winter weather — even in an El Nino," Ketcham said. "You still do get some of the extremes that occur... but more than likely they're going to be moderated quite a bit. Cold outbreaks won't last as long."

Since 1970, Wichita has averaged about 16 1/2 inches of snow each winter.

Local residents have been getting conflicting forecasts for the coming season. The Farmers Almanac projects a colder, wetter winter than normal, while AccuWeather's outlook states Kansas will be warmer and dryer than usual.

Several people have been calling the Great Plains Nature Center in recent days to see what the woolly caterpillar is forecasting.

Folklore states that the wider the brown band in the center of the woolly caterpillar, the milder the coming winter will be.

Connie Leger, a naturalist on staff at the center, said the caterpillar may be cute, but its autumn wardrobe is irrelevant for winter.

"They're basically going to die before it's going to get cold anyway," Leger said. "A lot of them will get eaten."

She's been seeing a lot of them at the center lately, but she knows they won't last long.

"So many of them are crossing the trails," she said. "They either get squished or a bird swoops down and picks them up."

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