SYRACUSE, NY (WSYR-TV) –- The Storm Team issued its forecast for the upcoming winter on November 20 and the forecast is for above-normal temperatures between December and February in Central New York with more snow than we have seen the last four winters. For Syracuse, we think at least 100” of snow will fall this winter.

Here is more on our reasoning behind the forecast.

Welcome back El Nino!

After three straight winters with La Nina conditions in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, El Nino has returned.

El Nino occurs when waters near the equator in the Pacific Ocean are warmer than normal. As of early November, the central and eastern Pacific Ocean were recording sea surface temperatures 2 to 3 degrees Celsius above normal. This puts this El Nino right on the cusp of being characterized as a ‘strong’ event.

Warmth looking likely

We looked back at past strong El Ninos and at least for the ones over the last 40 years, there is a strong tendency for winter temperatures in Central New York to be above normal. Four out of the five strong El Nino since the early 1980s fit that category and the last two: 1997-98 and 2015-16 were particularly warm.

Syracuse winter temperature forecast

For that reason, we have the most confidence in predicting a warmer-than-normal winter this time around.

Even if we end up warm for the winter that doesn’t mean we can’t have short bouts of cold.  In fact, each of these recent El Nino years had at least one day where the temperature dropped below zero.

Could snowfall get back on track?

Of course, the temperature is one thing, but snowfall is how many gauges our Central New York winters, and for the last four winters it has been lacking.

Going into the winter of 2019-20, Syracuse had not had more than back-to-back winters with 90” of snow or less. This goes back to 1949 when records were first measured at Hancock Field in North Syracuse.

We are now up to four straight sub-par snowfall winters and counting. One could say from a law of averages perspective that a snowier winter is in our future. It is the philosophy of “we’re due,” but then the same argument could have been made last year, and look where we ended up: 65.5” of snow.

One thing we’ve noticed with the last 3 or 4 winters at the jet stream level is that just off the Eastern Seaboard there has been a strong persistent area of high pressure that has helped provide milder-than-average temperatures and lackluster snowfall. When storms have developed, more often than not, in recent winters, the storms have tracked either right at us or to the west of CNY. These types of storm tracks aren’t favorable for much, if any snow which has played a strong role in our snow drought the past 4 winters. Will the strong East Coast ridge plague snow lovers here in CNY again? 

We need to look at more data.

Strong El Ninos spell mixed signals for snowfall

When you initially look at snowfall from past strong El Ninos you don’t see much of a trend for Syracuse.  There have been some very low snowfall winters, like 1982-83 when only 66” fell but some that were others close to normal, and even one doozy of a winter in 1991-92 when 166.9” fell!

After staring at this chart for a while and seeing nothing, we started to look at it from a different perspective. Of the eight winters in the sample, there are five with at least 100” of snow. That is a slim majority of the sample but a majority, nonetheless. Now, reaching just 100” leaves us short of the average Syracuse winter of 127” of snow BUT it would be more than we have seen recently.

For example, hitting 100” exactly would be a 53% increase over last winter’s snowfall!

Syracuse’s snowfall forecast

So, our forecast for Syracuse’s snowfall is for at least 100” of snow but the confidence for this part of the forecast is lower than it is for the temperatures.