RACINE COUNTY — Last winter we learned that the term for more than one polar vortex is polar vortices, and based on one prediction, we might need to dust that term off once again this winter.
But get ready for a new term: “Refriger-Nation.”
That’s the name staff with the Old Farmer’s Almanac already have bestowed on an area of the country — including southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois — they predict will be in a deep-freeze this winter. The 2015 edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, released on Wednesday, predicts a colder, snowier winter from December through — likely — March.
“You folks are right on the edge of the icebox,” Editor Janice Stillman said. “You guys will be much colder and snowier than much of the Midwest.”
Just how cold is the weather they predict will descend on a swath of the “lower lakes” that descends from Milwaukee County south through Racine and Kenosha counties, into a chunk of northeastern Illinois, and eastward through a portion of Indiana and beyond?
“Vicious cold. Colder than last year is what I’m trying to tell you,” Stillman said.
While the almanac predicts overall temperatures, it doesn’t forecast events such as the polar vortices that shut down much of the region for days at a time last season.
Temperatures are predicted to be 3 degrees to 5 degrees below normal from November through March, Stillman said. But average temperatures in February will be slighter warmer than normal, she said, granting a little reprieve from the bone-chilling cold.
“If you consider temperatures in the 20s to be a reprieve,” she said with a laugh.
According to the winter forecast, the average temperature in December is forecast at 28 degrees, 4 degrees colder than average. That average temperature dips to 23 degrees in January, which is 4 degrees below the average. But the average temperature rises to 28 degrees again in February, an increase of 1 degree warmer than the average, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
During the winter, February appears poised for the least snowfall, Stillman said. The prediction includes snow during the last 10 days of November, snow showers for five days before and during Christmas, around New Year’s Eve and again in the second week of January, she ticked off the list.
Fall months crucial
National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Kavinsky said, through the end of November, both temperatures and precipitation are expected to be normal, though.
“At this point I can’t give you a trend one way or another. If El Niño was going (on), I’d feel confident saying (winter could be) warmer,” Kavinsky said, explaining that an El Niño pattern emerged earlier, and typically would bring warmer weather with it. But “now it’s trending toward (a) normal winter.”
El Niño is a disruption of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific, typically characterized by warmer-than-usual temperatures, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Traditionally, the Old Farmer’s Almanac winter weather forecasts result in 80 percent accuracy rates. But Kavinsky said the next three months, September through November, will be crucial to determining how cold this winter might be.
How predictions are crafted
Almanac staff utilize three scientific disciplines to calculate their weather predictions: solar science, climatology and meteorology. Solar activity, especially sunspots, plays an important role in predicting the weather, Stillman said. Low solar activity has been an indicator of colder weather, and can occur for a period of years to decades, she said. The effects may last years to decades, as well.
“Sunspots appear every 11 years. You can follow it like a stock market wave,” she explained. “Recently, we’ve been getting into the shallow valley-small hill cycle.”
Such a high-and-low cycle of sunspots has an effect on our climate, specifically correlating to colder weather, Stillman said.
“The cycle is (now) the smallest it’s been for 100 years. That’s an indicator of extreme cold,” she said. “We will enter a period — for possibly a few decades — of colder-than-normal temperatures.”
This also could result in a warmer-than-average summer, but the almanac predicts a “near-normal” amount of rainfall in June, July and August.