Winter weather predictions for northwest Iowa

With forecasts this week ranging from sleet to 10 inches of snow now moving to a 40 percent chance of snow accumulating less than an inch in northwest Iowa, I think winter weather is on all of our minds.

What is the weather going to do before Christmas? What are we in for in January? Why is it so hard to predict what we’re going to experience this winter?

Winter 2017-18 predictions

 “The Old Farmer’s Almanac,” which uses mainly solar activity, among other factors, in determining long-range forecasts, predicts Iowa to have mild temperatures with snowy conditions. It projected that last winter’s weak La Niña would turn into a weak El Niño this year.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “El Niño and La Niña are the warm and cool phases of recurring climate pattern across the tropical Pacific.” These patterns then trigger predictable waves of temperature, precipitation and wind.
Graphic about El Nino and El Nina

Although the almanac predicted El Niño, La Niña actually strengthened in November and NOAA predicts a more than 80 percent chance that it will continue through this winter. However, La Niña conditions are supposed to be weak-moderate. So although La Niña usually creates cooler conditions, we might not see huge differences with this weather pattern.

The Climate Prediction Center did predict that La Niña would continue, but it thought this would more affect areas to the north. It gave equal chances of temperatures being below, above or near normal. Helpful right?

The CPC agreed with the almanac’s prediction that we would see more precipitation in the Midwest this winter, although it did not specifically say snow, just precipitation in general.

NOAA and the National Weather Service put out prediction maps for December, January and February that have northwest Iowa at a 33 percent possibility of temperatures below normal and precipitation levels at normal.

Temperature graphicPrecipitation graphic

Why is it so vague?

I just laughed to myself when I read the CPC gave equal chances of temperatures being below, above or near normal. So pretty much they have no idea what’s going to happen, is that what they’re telling me?

It always makes me wonder, why is it so hard to predict the weather?

It is a huge topic, but to boil it down,, basically, weather data is being collected all around the world and is processed by supercomputers. However, calculations are constantly changing because of variables such as how the sun heat’s the Earth’s surface, air pressure changes as ice melts and water evaporates and even the effect of the Earth’s rotation.

An article from How Stuff Works talks about a meteorologist named Edward Lorenz who equated meteorology to the butterfly effect — the theory that if a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world, it will drastically change something thousands of miles away. Because conditions change so constantly, Lorenz set the limit for accurate weather predicting at two weeks.

The ever-changing conditions make weather in the near future difficult for meteorologists, even with radar, but to predict the next three months or more is even more impossible a feat.

What about Horseshoe Bend?

The final question to answer is: Will the Horseshoe Bend tubing hill be open this winter?

The easiest answer is: We certainly hope so!

We’re prepared to open the tubing hill at the Horseshoe Bend Wildlife Area as soon as we have a solid six inches of snowpack on the hill.

When that will happen, we know about as well as you do. But keep watching our website and Facebook page for updates on weather conditions and when we can open.

1 Comment

  1. Dan Johnson on December 30, 2017 at 8:53 am

    This is a good article. Thanks for writing it. I see that you referenced “Stuff You Should Know” podcast. I have spent countless enjoyable hours listening to the hosts discuss a diverse menu of topics. It is presented in such an interesting and humorous fashion.
    Thanks for your efforts and Happy New Year!

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