Big snow may be ahead

10/26/2011 12:00 AM

10/26/2011 6:19 AM

It could be a snowy winter for Wichita, if one forecasting agency's prediction proves accurate. AccuWeather is predicting nearly 50 percent more snow for the Wichita area this winter — and then an early end to the cold weather, perhaps by late February. "I'm thinking 20, 22, 23 inches" for Wichita, said Paul Pastelok, senior meteorologist and leader of the long-range forecasting team. "That's basically one extra storm that gives you that extra boost."

Wichita averages just under 15 inches of snow a year, so a seasonal total of 23 would be an increase of more than 50 percent.

Wichita can expect significant swings in temperatures, he said, with harsh cold snaps broken up by warmer spells.

That's pretty typical for southern Kansas, and it's one aspect of the winter outlook where the National Weather Service agrees with AccuWeather.

The two agencies both predict an early start to severe weather season next year, with conditions conducive to tornadoes arriving in Kansas in late February to early March.

"The potential is there for early and significant tornadoes," particularly in the southeastern United States, said Larry Ruthi, meteorologist in charge of the Dodge City branch of the weather service.

The two forecasting services disagree on how much moisture the Sunflower State can expect, however.

With a strong La Nina setting up for the second consecutive autumn, the weather service's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a winter and spring very similar to last year.

La Nina is the name given to a cooling of the surface water of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. Among its features is typically a single, weak jet stream that moves across the northern U.S. before dipping deep into the Southeast.

That would mean dryer than normal for most of Kansas and slightly colder-than-normal temperatures, Ruthi said.

Atmospheric conditions and forecasts for this winter "closely match" those of 2008-09, Pastelok said.

Wichita recorded 13.6 inches of snow that winter. But Pastelok said he's using the previous winter as a better guide, when Wichita received 22 inches of snow.

Wichita recorded 17.3 inches of snow last winter.

Pastelok said Wichita appears particularly vulnerable to an ice storm or two late in the year or early in January, while Ruthi said he sees the ice threat being higher in central and western Kansas.

"The precipitation, in my mind, is very uncertain for Kansas," Ruthi said. "We're kind of in that transition zone where we could go either way."

Pastelok and Ruthi agree that the Northern Plains and the Great Lakes regions will have a harsh winter, with abundant snow and temperatures colder than normal — even for them.

AccuWeather predicts New York City will get 62 inches of snow this winter, more than doubling its average of 29.

Minneapolis, which averages 50 inches a winter, is projected to get 87.

Philadelphia, which averages 21, is predicted to receive 44.

And Chicago will accumulate 57 inches, AccuWeather predicts, which is up sharply from the annual average of 39.

Some parts of the nation are already getting a dose of winter weather: Denver could see a foot of snow by the end of the day today, said Kevin Darmofal, a meteorologist with the weather service's Wichita branch.

Even Goodland and other parts of northwest Kansas could receive a few inches of snow today.

That won't make it to Wichita, but much colder temperatures will. Today's high is expected to reach only the low 50s, about 30 degrees colder than Tuesday.

There's a slight chance of light rain for the Wichita area, Darmofal said, but the precipitation isn't expected to amount to much.

"For sure, it's going to be quite a change," he said. "You'll definitely need a heavier jacket, for sure.

"It would be good to have the umbrella with you, but you might not have to use it."

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