Both the National Weather Service and the WNC-based Ray’s Weather Center are predicting a drier, milder winter than normal this year.
These long-range forecasts are founded on cooler-than-average water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. This phenomenon, known as La Niña, is the opposite of last year’s El Niño pattern, which brought warmer temperatures to the Pacific and record snows to the Southern Appalachians.
But while La Niña years are historically characterized by above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation, that certainly hasn’t been the case so far. This is shaping up to be one of the coldest Decembers in Asheville’s recorded history, with the daily average temperature hovering nearly 8 degrees below the norm (40 degrees Fahrenheit). And as of today, Dec. 21 – the official first day of winter – we’ve already doubled the average snowfall for the month, having received about 4 inches in recent weeks. And it looks like we might be in for more soon: Ray’s Weather is calling for a white Christmas this week, predicting “at least a moderate snow event” as a low pressure system moves across the Southeast.
So is the current deep freeze really destined to give way to an early spring?
“We really think the rest of the [winter after New Year’s is] going to be relatively mild,” asserts Ray Russell, the founder of Ray’s Weather, adding that he expects a high-pressure trough in the northern Atlantic to break up by Jan. 1, paving the way for “a radical change in the temperatures.”
Don’t break out your swimsuit just yet, however. “Maybe it will turn out all wrong,” Russell cautions with a laugh. “But we’re not worried about it yet.”