Winter forecast | What’s up with that?

Is Chicago’s cold season going to be mild or wild?

I’ve heard competing forecasts: Is Chicago set for a terrible winter, with Mother Nature exacting revenge for the comfortable temps we experienced last year, or are we looking at another mild cold season?—K.Z., Logan Square

The easy-breezy winter of 2011–12 was Chicago’s ninth warmest on record. “The chance of getting two in a row like that is, statistically, very small,” beloved WGN weather wizard Tom Skilling says when reached by phone in his meteorology pod inside Tribune Tower. “It looks like this might be a more seasonable winter: colder than last year and modest odds for more snow than usual.” The average annual snowfall in Chicago is 38 inches. The standard monthly high/low temps are: December, 36/22; January, 31/16; February, 36/21; and March, 47/31.

“We’re expecting [this winter] to be right around average,” agrees AccuWeather meteorologist Jack Boston. One of his former colleagues, Josh Nagelberg, took heat for his strongly worded, off-the-mark seasonal forecast in October 2011. “People in Chicago are going to want to move after this winter,” said Nagelberg, who left AccuWeather shortly after the dead-wrong prediction. Boston says AccuWeather is far more confident about its prediction this time.

Unlike last year, the Northern Hemisphere is in a neutral state between an El Niño (which causes warmer than usual winters) and a La Niña (which brings more cold and snow). “We’ve identified 21 years since 1950 when we were between an El Niño and a La Niña,” Skilling says, “and 53 percent of those winters trended at or below normal temperatures, and 66 percent trended snowier than average.” So don’t count on a repeat of March’s run of 80-degree days.

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