After cold, snowy fall, what does winter have in store for Lincoln?

December 3, 2018

By any measure, this has been one of the coldest, snowiest falls in Lincoln’s recorded history.

October’s average temperature was 2.7 degrees below normal, and the 3.5 inches of snow that fell was the fifth most ever for the month.

Things did not improve in November, unless you see more snow and cold as an improvement. As of Friday, with one day to go in the month, November was on track to go down as the ninth-snowiest and either the seventh- or eighth-coldest in history.

December is not predicted to start off much better, with rain and snow in the forecast for this weekend and high temperatures in the 20s and 30s for at least the next week.

So what does that mean for the coming winter?

The last time Lincoln had a lot of snow before December, the city had one of its snowiest seasons ever.

In 1997, when 13.4 inches fell before Dec. 1 — thanks to the largest-ever October snowstorm — the snow kept coming.

The 1997-98 winter season was the ninth-snowiest of all time, with 44.6 inches of snow. On the other hand, Lincoln got 11.1 inches in October and November of 1991, then saw only a little more than a foot of snow the rest of the winter and wound up with below-average snowfall.

The long-range forecast from the National Weather Service calls for a slightly better than average chance that Nebraska will be warmer than normal and an “equal chance” of having more or less precipitation than normal.

The Weather Service bases its prediction of warmer-than-normal temperatures for the western half of the United States on the fact that an El Nino climate system, which brings unusually warm seawater to the central Pacific Ocean, will form by February. In October, forecasters said they were 70-75 percent sure an El Nino would form. In November, they updated that to 80 percent.

Ken Dewey, a regional climatologist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said accurate long-term forecasts are difficult to produce, even for weather experts.

While admitting that his expertise is not in long-range forecasts, Dewey said the fact that so much of the country is listed as “equal chance” for both temperature and precipitation means, “We have no idea; it could above, normal or below normal.”

Update hourly