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Almanac: Cold November, warm December

Patrick Clune uses a snowblower to clear his driveway on North Main Street in Homer in this Dec. 10, 2012, file photo. The Old Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a colder than normal November, followed by a warmer-than-normal December and an uncertain January.

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Patrick Clune uses a snowblower to clear his driveway on North Main Street in Homer in this Dec. 10, 2012, file photo. The Old Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a colder than normal November, followed by a warmer-than-normal December and an uncertain January.

Sunny and highs in the 80s: Time to stack the firewood and break out the woolies. November is supposed to be pretty cold.

Put it all away in December — it is going to be really warm. If you need a new shovel, take a guess, because the Old Farmer’s Almanac is all over the map about snowfall.

Cortland is at a weird nexus of regions in the Old Farmer’s Almanac, Editor Janice Stillman said Wednesday. One good weather god sneeze and Cortland moves between the Northeast, Appalachian and Lower Lakes areas, so being specific about a winter forecast — particularly when the forecast is made a good 10 months ahead of time — is as much art as science.

Maybe more.

Late last winter, as the New Hampshire-based almanac was building its forecasts, Stillman looked at her meteorologist and asked, “Do you really want to go with ‘mild?’”

“It’s all relative,” he replied.

But that’s the almanac’s forecast for winter in Cortland County: A colder than normal November, followed by a warm December. January could go either way and the rest of the winter season will be colder than normal.

For precipitation, expect a normal or wet December, a normal or dry January and a normal-to-wet rest of the season.

In short, dress in layers; they’re easier to put on and remove.

“You have to keep in mind the temperature will be colder than last year, but still warmer than normal,” Stillman said Wednesday.

Almost anything would be more wintry than last winter. The temperature was 5 degrees above normal, the National Weather Service reported. And in an area that can usually expect to see 102 inches, we got 18. That’s not snow, that’s meteorological dandruff.

The almanac’s algorithm has been modified many times since 1792, but relies heavily on sun spot activity, which Stillman says is down. Fewer sun spots generally means colder weather on Earth, so the planet should be in the midst of a mild cooling trend.

But it’s not, she said, in part because greenhouse gases more than offset the sun spots. In fact, July was the 15th consecutive month of record-warm weather, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the warmest single month ever recorded.

That tends to throw a 225-year-old weather forecasting tool into disarray. Add to that a good chance of a slight La Nina cycle late this fall. The cooler water temperatures in the Pacific would tend to lead to more precipitation in the North during the winter, but dryer weather in the South.

But wait, it gets messier. Just as the Pacific oscillation that causes the La Nina/El Nino cycle varies, arctic and North Atlantic oscillations vary, too.

That’s one of the reasons why the National Weather Service doesn’t bother with long-term forecasts more than 90 days into the future. Last winter, for example, was an El Nino cycle, which should be warm and wet. “We didn’t get the wetter, it tracked south of us,” said Joanne LaBounty, a meteorologist at the service’s Broome County station. “I don’t think there’s a strong correlation.”

So what does the National Weather Service predict for the winter? It doesn’t, LaBounty said. This is just August. However, she does expect a slightly warmer and wetter fall.

Stillman will go out on a limb, though: “You’ll have the snow, but it’ll be mild,” she said, but even that depends on when the Great Lakes freeze; the jet stream blowing over the water causes lake effect snow.

Weather isn’t just art or science, it’s philosophy, she said: “No matter what the weather is, the only perfect climate is in bed.”

What’s normal

– Normal snowfall: 101.9 inches

– Record snowfall (2011): 159.7 inches

– Last winter: 18.1 inches

– Normal high temperature: 34 degrees

– Last winter: 39.5 degrees

– Normal low: 18.6 degrees

– Last winter: 23.6 degrees

— Source: National Weather Service

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