FORT KENT — Thrilled or disappointed by Maine’s weather on any given day? Thank or blame the jet stream, that fast-moving air miles above the Earth flowing west to east separating colder and warmer air.
Meteorologists say it may well be setting the state up for a winter with above normal temperatures and normal to near normal precipitation.
The potential of a weak “El Nino” — the tropical Pacific ocean-atmospheric phenomena that impacts global weather patterns — developing could push the jet stream into a position to bring cold air into northern New England from Canada, but not the extreme cold weather Maine experienced last winter, according to Victor Nouhan, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Caribou.
“This will not diminish the snow potential in Maine,” Nouhan said. “We just won’t get much in the way of deep, cold air masses like last year.”
As far as that snow potential looks, Nouhan said northern Maine could expect to be near the annual winter average of 150-inches of snow with the Bangor area getting a bit more than its typical 75-inches.
“We are looking at prior years with similar characteristics,” Nouhan said. “This particular winter looks like we are in for a low-end El Nino, and a lot of our forecast perimeters are based on what part of the El Nino cycle we are in, (and) based on that, this winter forecast makes a lot of sense.”
Nouhan said the snowfall averages will be a bit greater to the south.
“The chances for above normal snowfall are greater as you go south or into Down East Maine,” he said. “There is greater potential for big snowstorms down there than up (in Caribou).”
The weather service also is predicting the chance of a late December, early January thaw to melt some of the established snowpack in Maine.
“Hopefully we can get enough snow before that to minimize that impact,” Nouhan said.
Presque Isle-based Crown Weather Services also is calling for near-normal temperatures in northern Maine with slightly higher than average snowfalls.
Rob Lightbown, who runs Crown Weather with his wife, Meg, is looking at colder than average weather for the winter for southern Maine with above average snowfalls.
“As with any winter in Maine, it will not be bitterly cold all the time, nor will it snow all the time,” Lightbown said. “We likely will see a few storms that bring an icy mixture or even rain across much of Maine, but at the same time, we will also see an equal number of storms that bring heavy snow accumulations to the Pine Tree State.”
Lightbown said he bases his forecasts on reviewing the same weather maps and data used by the National Weather Service.
“The difference is that I pride myself on inputting my 20 years of weather forecasting experience in northern Maine,” he said. “Oftentimes [Crown Weather] comes out more accurate than the other weather forecasts that are out there.”
Lightbown is predicting the first snows in Maine will fall over the north late October or early November, with all parts of the state seeing snow by early December.
“This is a winter that I think a majority, if not all of Maine will see a white Christmas,” he said.
Basing its own forecast on centuries-old climate models and formulas, the Old Farmer’s Almanac is calling for a colder than normal winter but near or below normal snowfalls for the region.
“We are predicting for the northeast things to be colder than normal this winter, similar to last year,” Sarah Perreault, senior associate editor at the New Hampshire-based publication, said. “But we are seeing below normal snowfall. There is still going to be snow, but not like last year.”
Citing an 80-percent accuracy rate, Perreault said the Old Farmer’s Almanac still uses the same weather forecasting process used when it was first published in 1792.
“We don’t make things up, we crunch the numbers,” she said. “Of course, as computers and radars have come along, we use those, but it is still based on solar science, climate and meteorology.”
Temperatures will be at the lowest in mid to late December, January and February, according to the Almanac. The snowiest periods are expected mid to late November, December and March.
Weather, Perreault said, is a central part of everyone’s lives, affecting all aspects of day to day activities.
“We try to give people fair warning on what the weather will be in their region,” she said. “People sometimes think we have control over the weather and will blame or thank us. Obviously, we have no control.”
Weather, she said, is actually a small part of what the Old Farmer’s Almanac is about. The publication also contains everything from gardening tips to house cleaning techniques.
Perreault is aware strict scientists view the Almanac as more folklore than fact, but she is quick to point out her publication did accurately predict the snowstorm that fell last year the day after the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 in New Jersey.
“It’s all OK,” she said. “They are scientists, and their lives are about predicting weather. We are what we strive to be — useful with a bit of humor thrown in.”
For his part, Nouhan gives the publication high marks for its 2014 winter weather forecast.
“I think they did very well last winter,” he said. “They do tend to verify in very broad categories, but they did pretty darn good.”
For the immediate future, Nouhan said he is not seeing anything major on the horizon, or any systems coming in capable of producing snow.
“We are noticing a cool down toward the end of the weekend,” he said. “Another front will be coming in towards the middle of the week, but the atmosphere does not look cold enough for snow.”
But as time goes on, Perreault said, Mainers should prepare for the cold.
“Bundle up, look for sales on down vests, coats and fleece blankets,” she said. “It’s going to start to feel seasonably cold in a few days.”