So, how much snow will Southwest, Central Virginia see this winter?

A special report answering the number one question our weather team gets every year.

ROANOKE, Va. – It’s almost Thanksgiving, which means it’s about time for turkey stuffing and your Winter Weather Outlook.

Look, we all know forecasting a week out isn’t easy. Predicting the weather three to four months out is even harder.

But, our track record with these past outlooks has been very good. So without further ado, let’s get into the behind-the-scenes science of how we came up with these forecasted numbers.

How El Niño leaves us hints for what to expect here at home

Weather patterns in other parts of the planet can clue us in on what type of weather comes our way in the winter. One of the most useful connections is the El Niño – Southern Oscillation.

El Nino - What it means (WSLS)
What La Nina means (WSLS)

Waters between South America and Indonesia typically get warmer as you travel from east to west. In an El Niño phase, warm water spreads east towards South America, and in a La Niña, the warm water gets pushed even farther west than it usually does. Warm waters mean more rain nearby, and where that rain falls influences weather across the globe.

The first few months of this winter have a La Niña pattern. That typically means conditions in Virginia are warmer than average with limited snowfall.

What La Nina means in the winter (WSLS)

Later in the season, the pattern is in a neutral phase. Snow has a better chance of forming early in 2023.

Does it snow less than it used to?

Have you lived in this area for a long time? If so, you may have pondered the question: Does it snow less than it used to?

Well, statistically the answer is yes. We may need to rethink what we consider an average snowfall to be in our corner of the Commonwealth.

Does it snow less than it used to? (WSLS)

The long-term average snowfall for Roanoke is 18.5 inches. If you narrow the timeframe to just the past 30 years, it’s around 13 inches.

Top 5 snows of all times (WSLS)

While the snowiest winter on record did happen within the last 30 years, the long-term average is skewed by other big snows in the historical record.

Top 5 snows in last 30 years (WSLS)

There are fewer of those outliers accounted for in the 30-year average. The last big snow happened in 2010, so it’s still possible that we may have to shovel more. Those years are becoming few and far between as the climate changes.

Connecting the dots, from the sun to Earth

It may sound weird, but our winter forecast depends partially on the amount of activity on the sun.

Solar activity influence on the winter (WSLS)

There are actually some studies that show the number of sunspots or solar activity and how they correlate with something known as blocking.

Blocking can often influence the amount of cold air that we have.

The least amount of activity on the sun, the weaker the winds are at the poles. This means that colder air can spill southward and be blocked into the southern U.S.

When there’s more activity on the sun – like there will be in 2025 – the more wind there is in the poles. That means colder air gets locked up north for longer periods of time.

It’s not to say we won’t get cold at all this winter, but it just might not be as often as some of you were used to growing up.

So, how much snow will we see this winter?

Taking into account everything you’ve seen so far, how much snow will we see this winter? That after all is the million-dollar question!

Per usual, we are looking at less snow east and more snow west…no surprise there. For areas in green (which is most of Southside), we are forecasting 3-9″ of snow.

Farther north, in the areas in light blue, which includes most of the Lynchburg zone, the prediction is for 8-14″.

As we move farther west, areas in dark blue, which includes the Roanoke Valley, you can expect 12-18″ of snow.

As the elevation goes up, the snow totals do too. For areas in pink, including the New River Valley and Mountain Empire, we are forecasting 15-21″.

Last but not least, the higher elevations of the Highlands shown in white could see among the highest totals, the prediction is 16-22″ of snow. The favored west slopes of Highland, Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties (including Snowshoe Mountain), Mt. Rogers … even Mountain Lake will likely see the most snow with over 2 feet possible.

2022-2023 Snow Outlook (WSLS)

When looking at the average snow per month, January and February are when we see the most wintry weather, and we have no reason to disagree with this assessment this year. We do think that the two snowiest months for us will lie in the first two months of 2023.

Snow per month in Roanoke (WSLS)

Now let’s sit back, relax, and see what mother nature has in store. Your Local Weather Authority will be ready for whatever she throws at us!

About the Authors:

Chief Meteorologist Jeff Haniewich is an American Meteorological Society (AMS) Certified Broadcaster, forecasting weather conditions in southwest Virginia on WSLS 10 News at 5, 5:30, 6 and 11 p.m. every weekday.

Marshall Downing presents the weather Saturday and Sunday evenings at 6:00 PM and 11:00 PM, and you can see him during the week at 12:00 PM and 5:30 PM.