WASHINGTON – Maryland can expect a colder than normal winter this year.
Or a warmer than normal winter.
It could be wetter than normal or it could be drier than normal.
The only aspect of the winter that forecasters can agree on is the fact that they don’t agree. Even The Weather Channel hedges, noting on its Web site that, “How severe the winter ends up being is quite uncertain.”
For the record, the National Weather Service predicts that the winter of 1998-99 will be milder than usual in Maryland, after a year in which temperatures were about 3 degrees below normal and precipitation was 4 inches below normal.
“We think it will be warmer and drier than usual this year in Maryland,” said Russell Martin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Service in Silver Spring.
That prediction is based on 30 consecutive Maryland winters, computer models that forecast the interaction of oceans and the atmosphere and complex statistical models “relating sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific to upper atmospheric winds,” Martin said.
The 207-year-old Old Farmer’s Almanac agrees with the weather service that snowfall will be down in Maryland. But it says the Mid-Atlantic can expect the “temperature to be below normal from November through March,” said managing editor Susan Peery.
The almanac, the oldest in the country, predicts only 1 inch of rain in December, 2 inches less than the average for the month. It bases its predictions on “a secret formula,” devised in 1792 by the almanac’s founder and “enhanced by the most modern scientific calculations based on solar activity, particularly sunspot cycles.”
Compare that to the almanac on the Intellicast Web site, which predicts there will be a “significant drop in temperature and increase in precipitation in December over November.”
The Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack predicts nearly 40 inches of snow will fall on Maryland this year, with the bulk hitting the state in January.
But the 200-year-old almanac’s prediction last year was off by more than 30 inches and it has already missed the mark with part of its weather forecast for this year, predicting a Nov. 10 snowstorm in Maryland that never happened.
For the people whose livelihoods depend on the weather, it’s mostly a waiting and guessing game.
At the Prince George’s County headquarters of Hechinger’s hardware stores, an official said the chain determines how much snow equipment to stock based on weather reports.
“There are differing opinions this year, though it seems to be a lot of snow,” said the official, who declined to give his name. “We’re just waiting on the weather,” he said adding that the chain wants to purchase conservatively and not overstock.
At the Wisp Ski and Golf Resort in Garrett County, where winter weather is a matter of economic life and death, officials are not worried about the conflicting long- term forecasts.
“We get our weather forecast from Precision Weather but the only forecast worth looking at is the two-week trend,” said Jerry Geisler, a Wisp spokesman.
But he could not help engaging in a little long-term forecasting himself — maybe mixed with a bit of wishful thinking.
“We expect it to be colder and snowier this year,” said Geisler, who said he expects the first snowstorm the week after Thanksgiving. — Capital News Service reporter Matthew Chin contributed to this report.