Detroit winter outlook: average temperature, more snow than last two years

- Winter has been an interesting season around southeast Michigan lately. We're only 4 years removed from the snowiest winter of all time, when we saw nearly 100 inches of snow. However, last winter and the one before that have been in the top ten for *warmest* winters ever. So what gives? And more importantly, what do we expect for this year?

When it comes to seasonal forecasting we spend a lot of time looking at El Nino and La Nina (and I will this year too). But the truth of the matter is, it's hard to nail when or if we will get hit by a large snowstorm. 

For example, last year is in the record books as a slightly lower than normal snow year - we saw nearly 40 inches and the average around here is 44 inches. The biggest storm of the season came before winter - December 11 - and if we take out the 11 inches we received in that storm, that brings our total to only 29 inches (which would be considered a very low snow year).  

I guess my point is, seasonal outlooks should be taken as general as possible, and can be "busted" with one or two major events.

KEY INFLUENCES:

Ok, disclaimer out of the way, what are we in store for? After two Winters dealing with El Nino, NOAA has issued a La Nina Watch for this winter. La Nina is essentially the opposite of El Nino, but that doesn't mean we will see opposite weather! Check out the national implications of La Nina during the months of Dec-Jan-Feb.

You'll notice Michigan is forecast to be "Nearly Normal" for temperatures and "Enhanced Chances for Wet" when it comes to precipitation. I know what you're thinking, "That sounds like more snow!". And it certainly might.  But it could also mean more cold rain/sleet days too.  

The last time we had this type of La Nina was the Winter of 2011-12. I looked back at that winter and noticed a slew of warm days (each month was about 4 degrees above average) and less than normal snowfall. In fact, thanks to the warm temperatures, winter that year was pretty easy overall. 

That will be an important key to watch this year: will the temperatures fall at the right time to allow the rain or sleet to switch to snow, or will it be *just* warm enough to stay as rain. It's an important detail.

TIMING:

Typically our temperatures are in what I like to call "the snow making zone" starting late December and continuing through late February. This means if we see the La Nina moisture, we *would* get more snow than our normal 44". When I attempt to break it down by month, here is what I get:

December: Near Normal Temps; Near Normal Snowfall around 10"
January: Near Normal Temps; Slightly Above Average Snowfall around 14"
February: Slightly Below Normal Temps; Slightly Above Average Snowfall around 12"

Putting this all together, it's safe to say I am forecasting a near normal temperature winter, with slighty more snow than the previous two year and a little above what is considered average. In general we see our first snow storm on November 17th with our first inch of snow on the ground by November 30. I see no reason we wouldn't be close to that this year too.

THE "WILDCARD"

One last thing to watch for: March.  From everything I'm seeing, March is shaping up to be chilly and rainy/snowy. I always consider March to be the wildcard month when it comes to Winter - a few big snowstorms can add up and make our yearly number bigger than expected.  

Keep an eye out for it!

When in doubt, get the FOX 2 Weather App for live radar and updates. You can also like us on Facebook where we'll be providing live updates throughout the season. Bundle up - Michigan winters can be long and cold.

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