Several factors to explain this not so wintry start to winter

By: Matt Hoffman Email
By: Matt Hoffman Email

Friday's inch of snow is nothing compared to what was on the ground last year at this time. Snowmobiling has been pretty much non-existent so far this season. Last year Eau Claire had a record snow pack of 24" for Christmas day and now this year barely any.

So why has this winter been so calm in the Chippewa Valley during the winter months? After word got out earlier this fall that La Niña would be sticking around for winter many folks were bracing for another brutal winter. However, we've mentioned it before. There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to how bad winter will be.

"i enjoy it," says Kim Creser of today’s snow. Her and her husband Dave were happy to see snow today, but they'd like to see some more. "Enough to cover the ground to keep it covered. Like i said it makes things look clean."

We aren't the only ones. Much of the northern states have far less snow than last year. So why will a white Christmas be hard to come by this year?

Two main reasons, one is a "split flow" of the jet stream which is where the jet stream breaks off into two smaller jet streams. This has kept the cold air from interacting with moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. So the main storm track has stayed to our south and we've seen relatively mild air and only weak clippers.

"It's pretty tough to break the pattern and we've been in a drought for months basically since august," says Shawn Devinny, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The other reason is we are under what's called a "positive arctic oscillation" caused by higher pressure near the North Pole that keeps the cold air locked up in Canada and the jet stream mainly to our north. Last year the negative oscillation occurred which allowed cold air to invade several times into the U.S.

"There's resorts up north that depend on snowmobiling traffic, so there are some true economic impacts at the individual business level that are very serious whether you have snow or not," says Linda John of Visit Eau Claire.

So what can break the status quo?

"it's going to be something on the hemispheric scale. A shift in the whole upper pattern even across other parts of the world in the northern hemisphere," explains Devinny.

That change doesn't look to come in the next two weeks with this split flow pattern to persist. However forecast models for the arctic oscillation show that changing in the next 10 days. That could mean more typical winter type weather later in January.

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