ROANOKE, Va. – Forecasting for an entire season is very difficult, and it’s no secret that it lacks the skill of a day-to-day forecast.
That said, there are three reasons why we issue this outlook every year.
- It’s the number one question we get from July!
- We’ve found an approach that’s worked (for the most part) over the past several years.
- This helps people plan ahead for their businesses and/or homes.
Whenever winter weather - be it snow, ice, or cold - becomes impactful, we will issue Weather Authority Alert Days to get you ahead of any inclement, inconvenient, and/or dangerous weather.
Some may argue that we’re due for snow, especially after the winter of 2022-2023.
Keep reading below and/or watching above to see what we expect.
What do we expect this winter?
Let’s dive right into it. Below this section, you’ll find our reasoning as to why we’re forecasting the totals we are.
It would be a total cop-out to say, “We’ll get more snow than last year.” We hardly got any!
That said, we’re expecting snow totals that are close to the 30-year average. This means close to two feet in the mountains and just a few inches farther east.
We know there will be an active storm track, especially in the second half of the winter. That at least creates more opportunities for snow than we’ve seen recently.
The question becomes, “How much cold air will there be?”
If cold air is limited at any point in the atmosphere, we’ll get more sleet/freezing rain. That’s something we’ll watch on an individual storm basis. That’s a big part of why our forecast looks the way it does.
Now - let’s go into detail as to why we’re forecasting these totals.
How “average snow” has changed over the years - Marshall Downing
When looking at what to expect, we have to look at the past. The Roanoke Valley has more than 100 years of weather data, so breaking the data down into chunks gives us extra insight into the trends we see.
The snowiest winter on record happened in 1959-1960. Next to that, the winter of 1995-1996 is a big talker. In the last ten years, however, the snowiest winter gave the Roanoke Valley 28″ of snow. That is still outside the top 20 snowiest winters on record here.
Apart from December 9, 2018, much of the 2010s was rather bare. Compare that to the 1960s when each winter brought at least 20 inches of snow.
One noticeable change over the years has been the added summer heat, which is harder to get rid of in the winter. With that warmer air, it becomes more likely to see other types of precipitation - like sleet and/or freezing rain.
These pieces of data give us a baseline as to what to look for in the coming winter, but it helps to look for similarities in global weather patterns.
Global weather patterns and their influence on winter here - Parker Beasley
El Niño is a global oceanic and atmospheric pattern that’s often talked about here because it plays a role in our local weather. Warmer waters in the equatorial Pacific tend to favor more storminess in the Eastern U.S.
More than half of El Niño winters favor above-average snow in Southwest and Central Virginia. This makes for a tricky forecast. One other factor we can look at is something called the Madden-Julian Oscillation.
This starts out near the East Coast of Africa, but it can be a clear sign of where we see rising air (precipitation) and sinking air (less precipitation) as it travels the globe.
The MJO’s trip usually takes 30-60 days, and it can be broken down into different phases. If rising air sits over us, we’re more favored for more snow during storms. The opposite is true if there’s a region of sinking air above us.
We’ll continue to track the MJO behind the scenes, as that will play a role in how much snow we get. If snow is forecast to impact your commute, school schedules, power, etc., we will be on top of it and ahead of it by issuing Weather Authority Alert Days.
How solar activity goes hand-in-hand with how cold we get - Chris Michaels
A key ingredient to getting snow is cold air (duh!). Did you know, however, that solar activity can influence how cold we get?
The sun goes through cycles in which it’s either dormant - a minimum - or active - a maximum.
There’s a theory that suggests if the sun is less active, the global weather pattern blocks the cold air and keeps it in the Eastern U.S. for a longer period of time. The more active the sun is, the less often we get cold.
As we get closer to a solar maximum in 2025, two local photographers have seen this activity play out first-hand by capturing the Aurora Borealis here in Virginia.
Watch our full special above to hear from Jason Rinehart and Peter Forister on their experiences capturing the aurora.
Based on this theory alone, it may be difficult to get prolonged periods of cold. If the cold and storm track line up just right, however, that’s when we’ll watch for snow, ice, sleet, etc.
If the cold becomes dangerous, especially while we’re without power, you’ll be notified first when we issue Weather Authority Alert Days.
How to send us your reports, pictures and/or videos through Pin It! - Chris Michaels
When the first flake falls, you are our eyes and ears when you send us your reports through Pin It.
It’s free and easy to use. Here are the steps to success when being a part of our team!
- Make a login on our weather app.
- Select the channel for ‘Weather’ and the category ‘Snow/Ice.’
- Hit ‘Upload a Pin.’
- Hit ‘Choose a File,’ type a description and voila!
When it comes to sending correct measurements, there are some simple tricks to keep in mind.
For snow, measure on a flat surface and try to stay away from snow drifts. You’ll want to read to the closest tenth of an inch.
Ice can be a little trickier. Take a reading on a ruler/tape measure from the left of a tree branch and a separate reading from the right. Average the two, and that’s how much ice has accumulated.
Whenever snow, sleet, or ice becomes dangerous to travel, your plans, or power, we’ll sound the alarm by issuing Weather Authority Alert Days on air and online.
How one local ski resort gets ready for whatever winter brings - Jeff Haniewich
Snowshoe Mountain in Pocahontas County, West Virginia is one of the premier winter sports spots east of the Mississippi.
Warmer-than-normal temperatures last winter were a major buzzkill, though. In fact, they tell us last winter was one of the worst historically in terms of snow.
Even still, they had some good skiing up there.
Optimism is growing for folks up at 4,848. “Our hope is for better than the last couple that’s for sure. I think there is a lot of optimism with a strong El Nino year. We’ve had some really good seasons with that weather pattern before.”
As soon as November rolls around, the snow guns are blasting man-made powder onto the mountain. Ninety percent of the snow you see at Snowshoe is made by the staff here.
The rest comes down to Mother Nature, especially when storms come down off the Great Lakes. It’s the main source of the natural stuff.
“In elevation, nothing is higher than us between here and those lakes and so it kinda just gets dumped out here on the mountain and we tend to see the lake effect snow tends to be a little lighter and fluffier, the kind of powder snow that we love for skiing.”
But, as mentioned earlier, the snow made on the mountain is also so key to their winter sport success.
Keep watching the story above to see what goes into making all that snow!
Snowshoe Mountain is scheduled to open the day before Thanksgiving, weather permitting of course. And for many that day cannot come soon enough.
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