A snowy view of the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial. (Kevin Ambrose)

Meteorological winter, defined as December through February, began Sunday, and the Northeast is already digging out from its first big winter storm. The snow missed Washington, but, soon enough, the flakes will be flying here in the DMV. We’ve never experienced a winter without at least a tiny bit of measurable snow.

It’s too soon to tell whether this will be a winter to remember or an enormous loser in the snow department, but there are plenty of opinions out there about what the season has in store for our region.

I’ve reviewed the winter expectations from forecasters from the media, private companies and the National Weather Service. There is no strong consensus among these predictions, but there is a gentle lean toward above-average snow amounts and near-normal temperatures. Last year, there was fairly uniform agreement among forecasters that Washington would have a somewhat snowier-than-average winter, which turned out to be right — although many forecasters overestimated snowfall to some extent.

Below, find a summary of winter outlooks from the private sector, the media — including the Capital Weather Gang — and the National Weather Service. The snow predictions shown are for Reagan National Airport, where the annual average snowfall is 15.4 inches, and the immediate Washington area.

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Judah Cohen, Atmospheric and Environmental Research

Snow prediction: 17 inches (slightly above normal)

Temperature prediction: Above average

Rationale: Cohen’s prediction comes from his winter forecast model, but he says he has low confidence in its output. That’s because fall snow cover in Siberia was “well above normal,” which he has linked to cold winters in the eastern United States. Cohen’s research has shown that above-normal fall snow cover in Siberia “favors a weaker and more disrupted polar vortex,” which tends to lead to severe winter weather. “There are signs of a significant polar vortex disruption in December, setting us up for a cold January,” Cohen wrote in an email. “However, the relationship is far from perfect.”

Last year, Cohen had the most accurate snow prediction for Washington among private sector forecasters, calling for 21 inches (compared with the actual snowfall of 16.9 inches).

Paul Dorian, Perspecta Weather

Snowfall prediction: 20 inches (somewhat above normal)

Temperature prediction: Slightly colder-than-normal

Rationale: Dorian writes: “The combination of a weak El Niño in the central Pacific and a large mass of warmer-than-normal water in the northeastern Pacific will result in an upper-level wind flow that allows for the transport of cold air masses from northern Canada into the central and eastern U.S.”

Dorian added that he believes low solar activity (the sun is near a 11-year minimum in sunspot activity) will also contribute to colder-than-normal conditions.

Paul Pastelok, AccuWeather

Snow prediction: 15 to 20 inches (slightly above normal)

Temperature prediction: Near normal

Rationale: Pastelok told us he expects warmer-than-normal ocean water off the Mid-Atlantic and Gulf coasts to supply moisture for storms entering the region. He also referred to the pool of warm water south of Alaska (referred to by some as the Blob), which could force the polar jet stream south over the eastern United States delivering cold air, while potentially combining with the southern branch of the jet stream. He wrote the two jet streams could “meet over the Tennessee Valley,” making the mountains “a good target for big snow” with more wintry-mix setups to the east over the Washington region.

Matt Rogers, Commodity Weather Group

Snowfall prediction: 20 inches (somewhat above normal)

Temperature prediction: Below normal

Rationale: Rogers, Commodity Weather Group’s president, told us his company favors a cold and somewhat snowy winter thanks to conditions in the tropical Pacific, which could favor juicy storms tracking across the southern United States, and the tendency for zones of high pressure to form in the high latitudes that force cold air southward.

Dave Tolleris, WxRisk

Snowfall prediction: 15 to 25 inches (somewhat above normal)

Temperature prediction: Normal to colder than normal

Rationale: Tolleris told us via email, “I think the data strongly favors the idea of at least either a normal winter or major and possibly severe winter eastern third of the country.”

He provided several reasons, including low solar activity, the above-normal Siberian snow cover, an active southern jet stream and the recent prevalence of high pressure zones in the high latitudes that, during winter, tend to push cold air southward.

Tolleris said he thinks December will end up milder than normal, but the second half of winter will be colder.

WeatherBell Analytics

Snow prediction: 19 inches (somewhat above normal)

Temperature prediction: Near normal

Rationale: Thomas Downs, a meteorologist at WeatherBell, told us via email: “After a warm start to December, Arctic air intrusions will become increasingly common as the winter progresses, especially over the Great Lakes. The East Coast should see relatively warm temperatures early on (after the cold November), with increasingly cold and snowy weather for a time in January and February. Signs are also pointing toward an extended winter season, lasting well into the spring.”

Television stations

  • NBC4 is calling for 18 to 25 inches of snow (somewhat above average) with December and January on the milder side, before trending colder in February and March.
  • FOX5 is calling for 15 to 25 inches (somewhat above average) of snow and near-average temperatures.
  • ABC7 is calling for seven to 17 inches of snow (slightly below average) and above normal temperatures.
  • WUSA9 is calling for 10 to 20 inches of snow (near average) and somewhat above-average temperatures.

Last year, ABC7 had the most accurate snowfall prediction among TV stations.

National Weather Service

The National Weather Service does not issue a snowfall forecast, but its winter outlook slightly leans toward above-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation for the region.

Capital Weather Gang


Capital Weather Gang’s predicted snowfall for the 2019-2020 winter.

Our winter outlook, released Nov. 12, calls for slightly below-average snowfall with eight to 16 inches in the immediate area (around 11 inches at National) and somewhat above-normal temperatures.

Compared with other outlooks, ours is among the least snowy and most similar to that of ABC7 and WUSA9.

Last year, we correctly predicted between 16 and 20 inches of snow at National (the actual amount was 16.9 inches) and produced one of the more accurate winter outlooks among the forecasts we reviewed.

For fun, I queried individual contributors to the Capital Weather Gang for their snowfall predictions for the upcoming winter at National, which are summarized below:

The average forecast from Capital Weather Gang contributors is 15.6 inches, which is at the high end of the range given in our official winter outlook.

Last year, Capital Weather Gang’s Ian Livingston nailed the winter snowfall amount at National, correctly predicting 16.9 inches.

Later this week, we will open up a forecast contest for Capital Weather Gang readers to predict winter snowfall totals at the airport.

Also, be sure to pick up a copy of Wednesday’s print edition of The Washington Post, which features a 10-page winter weather special section with nine articles from the Capital Weather Gang.

Meanwhile, think snow!

Posted in: Home Decor.
Last Modified: December 4, 2019