An Unpredictable Winter

Snow in downtown Bethesda, January 2013. Patch file photo.
Snow in downtown Bethesda, January 2013. Patch file photo.

Marylanders should prepare for the return of the days of shiver this winter season, with below-average temperatures and higher-than-average precipitation along the East Coast.

“First half of the winter will be more wet than white,” said Sandi Duncan, managing editor of the Farmers’ Almanac.

Matt Ross, seasonal forecaster for The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, disagrees, saying Marylanders should also prepare for warmer-than-average temperatures, with snow falls higher than last year but still below average.

Chris Strong, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, was a little less decisive on the matter.

“There is some indication that it will be close to a difficult winter, but there is no strong indication that it will be one way or the other,” Strong said.

“All you need for a big storm is for the right conditions to come together for three days at any point in the winter and that’s not something that we can see going into the season as a whole,” Strong said.

“I noticed this year, the outlooks are a lot more over the map than in the past,” Ross said. “In previous years sometimes there was a little more groupthink.”

Ross said that The Post’s Weather Gang uses analog data—the study of past weather patterns—to predict long-range forecasts.

The Farmers’ Almanac uses an astronomical and mathematical formula dating back to 1818 and is the secret work of an anonymous weatherman who goes by the pseudonym of Caleb Weatherbee, Duncan said.

With a mixed bag of methods and predictions, residents and county services should remain on alert.

Esther Bowring, public information officer for Montgomery County, said that the county is always prepared for snow. 

“When it snows we take over the home page of the county’s website,” Bowring said.

One of Montgomery County’s newest facilities, an equipment maintenance and operations center, has the largest salt dome on the East Coast, Bowring said.

Montgomery County recently held its snow summit, during which contractors and county staff do a mock run of the snow routes, Bowring said.

They also figure out how much equipment is needed, depending on how many inches of snow fall.

“It’s a science,” Bowring said.

Household snow maintenance is a little less sophisticated.

“We always have snow shovels, can’t have too many,” Jason Kirsch, owner of the Chevy Chase Supermarket, said. “If we know there’s a big storm coming in, we’ll go ahead and buy a big truckload if we need to make sure we can take care of all of our friends and neighbors in the area.”  

A snow shovel, depending on the model, will set you back about $10.

“It depends on the model,” Kirsch said. “Some are just a straight stick, some are more ergonomically designed.”

Such an important winter investment doesn’t require that much thought, however.

“Unfortunately they all work the same way, and they all involve human interaction,” Kirsch said. “If I could find one that does it without me, that’s the one I would recommend.”

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