Long range weather forecast: Colorado may see snowier fall, but it won't get us out of drought

DENVER - There are two almanacs that compete on the national stage.  The Farmer's Almanac and The Old Farmer's Almanac.  Both are soft cover publications that have been around for about 200 years.

In colonial and pioneer times, there were dozens of almanacs that were used to help farmers and ranchers with their planting and harvesting schedules.

Long before modern weather forecasts, these almanacs provided solar and lunar tables and tidal information that was vital for hunting, fishing and agriculture.  Poor Richard's Almanac was produced by no one less than Benjamin Franklin!

One of my favorite stories is in regard to the survival and success of the Old Farmer's Almanac.  Back in 1815, there was a lot of almanac competition.  Robert B. Thomas, the editor of the Old Farmer's Almanac was sick in bed with the flu.  His publisher was anxious to get the updated weather outlook and was banging on Thomas' front door.

Mr. Thomas, not up to the task, yelled through the door, "snow in June, frost in July", hoping that such an outlandish forecast would send his publisher away for a while.

Unknown to Robert Thomas, the publisher went ahead and started printing!  A few days later, when Thomas was back to feeling better, he realized in horror what had happened! 

Thinking that he would be the laughing stock of New England, Thomas scurried about trying to buy up any of these almanacs that had already gone out to the public.  Sadly, it was too late.

Also unknown to Thomas, a massive volcano called Tambora was blowing it's top in Indonesia.  One of the largest eruptions in history was sending nearly 40 cubic miles of ash into the atmosphere.

The eruption put so much dust into the sky that it blocked out sunlight around the world, causing a temporary global cooling event. 

The year 1816 is known as the "Year Without A Summer".  The cooling was so intense that snow did fall on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire in June and much of New England had frost and crop failures in July.

Suddenly, there was Robert B. Thomas standing on the corner with his almanac in hand, proclaiming that only he had "called it all along!"

Today, the Old Farmer's Almanac and the Farmer's Almanac still do their annual dual of the long-range forecasts.

Here are links to both:




-- Farmer's Almanac calling for colder winter --

The Old Farmer's Almanac has yet to make a public announcement of their winter forecast, but the Farmer's Almanac has put out a call for cold weather. Here is a brief summary:

"We are forecasting a winter that will experience below-average temperatures for about two-thirds of the nation," said Caleb Weatherbee, Farmers' Almanac prognosticator. "Coldest temperatures will be over the Northern Plains on east into the Great Lakes."

The publication's forecast calls for the combination of colder-than-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation will mean "lots of snow" for the Midwest, Great Lakes and portions of New England.

The Almanac has also pegged the Super Bowl, set for Feb. 2 in New Jersey, as a messy storm bowl.

"We're using a very strong four-letter word to describe this winter, which is C-O-L-D. It's going to be very cold," said Sandi Duncan, managing editor.

Based on planetary positions, sunspots and lunar cycles, the almanac's secret formula is largely unchanged since founder David Young published the first almanac in 1818.

Modern scientists don't put much stock in sunspots or tidal action, but the almanac says its forecasts used by readers to plan weddings and plant gardens are correct about 80 percent of the time.

Last year, the forecast called for cold weather for the eastern and central U.S. with milder temperatures west of the Great Lakes. It started just the opposite but ended up that way.

Weatherbee said he was off by only a couple of days on two of the season's biggest storms: a February blizzard that paralyzed the Northeast with 3 feet of snow in some places and a sloppy storm the day before spring's arrival that buried parts of New England.

The Maine-based Farmers' Almanac, not to be confused with the New Hampshire-based Old Farmer's Almanac, which will be published next month, features a mix of corny jokes, gardening tips, nostalgia and home remedies, like feeding carrots to dogs to help with bad breath and using mashed bananas to soothe dry, cracked skin in the winter.

-- Long-range forecast for Colorado --

Here is Mike Nelson's version of what to expect for the upcoming months.

The long-range forecast for the upcoming fall bodes fairly well for Colorado, but it will not get us out of the drought. The southwestern U.S. is expected to have a warm fall.

This will be especially true from southern California through Arizona, New Mexico and west Texas. Later in the fall and early winter, storminess should sweep in from the Pacific and bring more precipitation Washington State across the Dakotas. 

Colorado will be on the southern edge of this storm track, but hopefully close enough to get some of the moisture from these northern storms.

The Midwest will be in for temperatures that will be below normal over the northern plains and slightly above normal precipitation. The main storm track should sweep along the U.S. - Canadian border and may allow the cold air in Canada to drop into the northeastern part of the nation for much of the fall season. Frequent severe early cold outbreaks appear to be possible for the Great Lakes and Northeast.

In Colorado, our autumn weather outlook calls for temperatures to be near  normal, with a few cold surges, but nothing that last too long. We will be on the southern fringe of the storms that come into the northwestern U.S. and will catch some of the light to moderate rain or snow associated with the passage of these systems.

Precipitation will not be excessive as fall is typically one of the quieter times of year (for the most part). The upper level flow pattern should be primarily from the northwest to the southeast, this will swing storms across the northern plains at a fairly fast pace.

The type of storms created will bring snows back to our northern mountains, while the southern and central areas may not see much in time to give our ski season a really good start. At lower elevations, we will get a few fast moving storms as the season grows deeper. We may have a little snowier fall season than in the past year, but not enough to really put a dent in the drought.

Autumn is an enigma in Colorado. One of the most pleasant and certainly most beautiful times of year, it's also a time when the weather can't seem to make up its mind. Summer is over and winter hasn't begun, but we still see a little of both.

Thunderstorms still occur in September, but so does snow. October offers some of the most pleasant weather of the entire year, but you'd better have the snow blower ready to go just in case! By November, it can feel like January if subzero air settles in after a big, early snow. Autumn, of all the seasons, seems to have the biggest identity crisis.

As the days grow shorter, we see the end of the thunderstorm season. The lack of intense daytime heating doesn't allow for the strong convective lifting that helps to brew up afternoon storms. Additionally, the mid and upper levels of the atmosphere are comparatively warm after the long summer, so the air is relatively stable.

Although the official end of summer is not until the third week of September, the psychological end of summer is Labor Day weekend. We begin to think less about thunderstorms and more about the first snow of the season.

Usually those early snows first occur in the high country. One morning a thin veil of fresh snow will suddenly show up on the high peaks and usually disappear by midday.

Once in a while, an early snow will visit the Front Range cities. The earliest snowstorm on record for Denver was September 3, 1961, when four inches fell over the western suburbs of the city.  Just a few years ago, on September 21, 1995, Denver was bombed by a record snowfall of nearly ten inches.

This soggy, slushy preview of the upcoming season was very unwelcome - it damaged thousands of trees and power lines. The wet, heavy snow settled on trees still covered with leaves, and the overloaded branches crashed down on nearby wires.

But even a major storm does not last long in September. Within a day or so, the snow disappears under the steady gaze of the warm, early-fall sun. Golfers and gardeners were quickly back on the job under a brilliant blue sky. 

By mid to late September, the jet stream winds are beginning to flex their muscles once again. The jet stream usually gets pretty quiet in late summer as the strongest winds aloft are found in central Canada in late July through August.

In September, the increasing chill over the northern latitudes helps to force the jet stream farther south once more. As the winds aloft increase over the Rockies, the potential for stronger storm systems and major fluctuations in temperature increases as well.

Cold fronts start to roil down from the north with more vigor, and the result can often be a gorgeous summer-like day with a few inches of snow coming right on its heels.

The average date for the first frost in Denver is October 7, with the first measurable snow on October 19. Most years stay snow-free in Denver through September, but October is a different story.  In October the first significant low pressure storm systems of the season begin to form over Colorado. These storms bring easterly upslope winds along the Front Range and often the first opportunity for shovels and snow tires.

Autumn is not just a waiting period for the inevitable onslaught of  winter. Every Coloradan looks forward to the delightful stretch of warm, sunny days known as "Indian Summer" - perhaps the nicest weather of the entire year. Brilliant blue skies, highs in the perfectly comfortable seventy-degree range, light breezes - in other words, ideal!

Indian Summer is loosely defined as the warm, dry, quiet period of weather that follows the first killing frost.  This weather pattern usually occurs during late September or the first two weeks of October, and is especially delightful because it coincides with the peak of the aspen leaves.

There really is no meteorological significance to Indian Summer - it doesn't portend anything about the upcoming winter or reflect on the summer just past. Indian Summer is simply a time to try to slow down and savor the good fortune of living in Colorado!

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