Snow shovels and snow plows should be busy this winter in Wichita.
So says AccuWeather, which is predicting about 24 inches of snow this winter for Wichita. That’s about 70 percent more than Wichita’s average winter – which is about 15 inches – and slightly more than last winter’s total.
“We could have nearly twice as much snow fall as what we normally do,” said Dan Kottlowski, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather, which is based in State College, Pa., and has a branch in Wichita. “We think there will be a pretty active storm track just to the south.”
That storm track will put the Wichita area “in a vulnerable spot” for plenty of snow and even some ice, he said. Central and western Kansas can expect typical winter snow totals.
Even if those forecasts prove accurate, local National Weather Service officials are not concerned.
“That sounds like a lot, but it’s not too bad,” said Chance Hayes, warning coordination meteorologist for the Wichita branch of the weather service.
The past five years show how much winter snowfall can vary in Wichita, ranging from as little as 3 inches to as much as 30 inches in a season.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center is projecting less snow this winter for Wichita than AccuWeather is. The climate prediction center expects an average winter for Wichita in terms of snowfall and temperatures.
There’s a bit of a wild card in this winter’s projections, however.
An El Nino is taking shape in the equatorial Pacific, weather officials say, and it is likely to affect Kansas’ winter. A strong El Nino means above-normal precipitation for Kansas, Kottlowski said, but current projections say this one will be weak.
That translates into unpredictability for Kansas weather – which is reflected in the divergent winter outlooks offered by AccuWeather and the Climate Prediction Center. Simply put, the two agencies disagree on where the jet stream will set up in the southern United States.
A review of weather pattern trends has weather official Larry Ruthi convinced that early winter in Kansas will be a bit warmer and dryer than normal, while the rest of the winter will be a bit cooler and wetter than average – particularly in southern Kansas.
“If El Nino does not manifest itself, the weather will trend toward a colder, dryer regime” across Kansas, Ruthi, the meteorologist in charge at the Dodge City branch of the weather service, wrote in an e-mail response to questions.
Weather officials are not anticipating the kind of harsh, long-lasting cold spells that introduced many people to the phrase “polar vortex” last winter.
“I do not expect lengthy periods of frigid air in Kansas,” Ruthi said.
He does think the winter will have a sting in its tail, though.
“I would not be surprised to see a late winter or early spring blizzard,” he said.
Such an event is hardly unprecedented: The heaviest one-day snowfall in Kansas history occurred in March.
A snowstorm dumped 30 inches of snow on Pratt on March 28, 2009. The same system dropped more than 20 inches across a wide swath of southern Kansas stretching from just west of Wichita into far southwest Kansas.
Recent Wichita winters
2013-14: 23 inches
2012-13: 30 inches
2011-12: 3 inches
2010-11: 17.3 inches
2009-10: 15.1 inches