Daily Archives: November 2, 2008

What Winter Will Bring

What Winter Will Bring:

An Amateur Weatherman’s Forecast


Kenneth Burchfiel

If December is the most wonderful time of the year, November has to be the most stressful—for meteorologists, at least. This is the season of winter forecasts, where amateurs and professionals alike try to predict how much snow and cold the coming months will bring.

Before I made my own forecast, I thought it best to consult an expert in the field: Matt Ross, a contributor to the Washington Post weather blog Capitalweather.com. As he explained, predicting an entire winter season isn’t easy.

“In a medium [or] long range outlook, the best you can hope for is painting a general idea,” he said. “The more specific you get the higher likelihood of a [bust].”

Ross likes to use “analogs,” or years with similar spring, summer and fall weather, in making his predictions. He cited 1917-1918, 1943-1944 and 1996-1997 as some seasons that might match ours. His second major tool? A strange realm of weather data called the El Niño Southern Oscillation, or ENSO for short. For December, at least, that factor seems to be going the snow fans’ way.

“The strongest signal is for a cold [December] which is pretty typical in very week La Ninas following a stronger La Nina like we had last winter,” Ross said. “La Nina,” the opposite of El Niño, refers to the cooler-than-normal Pacific Ocean temperatures that we saw last winter.

Of course, predicting the weather takes more than analogs and the Pacific Ocean. Ross also cited temperature trends, precipitation amounts and hurricane statistics as vital factors in his forecasts. Needless to say, predicting the winter takes more than a thermometer and a good imagination.

Taking Ross’s personal forecast and advice into account, I set off to predict the kind of snowfall McLean would see for the 2008 season. First, I had to consider our region’s climate. According to a map put out by the Baltimore/Washington National Weather Service, McLean receives 22 inches of snow in an average season.

The problem is, Mother Nature has underperformed in the last few years; my records for the 2007-2008 area indicated only 8.3 inches of the white stuff and two school closings. Besides, with the District’s urban heat effect and the decrease in moisture the Shenandoah Mountains contribute to, we receive only a fraction of the snow areas further west get. (Some parts of western Maryland can expect over 100 inches per year, for example.) And with global warming looking increasingly certain, it’s hard to say how many more “normal” 23-inch winters we’ll see.

The good news for snow fans, however, is what happened in October. 13 out of Washington’s last October days had lows below average, according to Accuweather.com, and much of the Northeast saw three to twelve inches of snow. (I even got to throw a snowball during a college visit in New York.) Though day-by-day conditions can’t predict a season’s worth of weather, students hoping for school cancellations can take heart in our recent cold spell.

In the end, I decided to err on the optimistic side. Like Ross, I predict a cold December, but also feel that we’ll get a minor snow event during the holiday season.

While Ross forecasts warmer temperatures for January and February, I think that we’ll see an even mix of cold streaks and heat waves—resulting in average temperatures and a good amount of snow. We’ve had some interesting March weather in the last few years, so I feel confident calling for a winter weather event in the early part of that month.

As far as numbers go, I think the McLean area will experience five to seven snow events this year—with the bulk of those occurring in January and February. 21 inches of snow seems like a reasonable guess, and though it’s hard to forecast school closings, I think we’ll have at least three snow days by the time March rolls around.

Winter forecasting isn’t easy, and I’ll surely be proven wrong on parts of my forecast. Then again, it never hurts to hope for snow. As Ross said, “Warm dry winters are awful.”


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I wish I were a freshman

I wish I were a freshman


Kenneth Burchfiel

When I was a freshman, I envied the seniors more than anyone else in the school. Perhaps it was the car keys, or the amusement park trips, or the knowledge that college was just a year away. It’s strange, though. I’m now a 12th grader myself, yet I find myself envying the freshmen.

Oh, sure, it’s nice to drive home from school. I do enjoy getting out five minutes early on Friday. But for the most part, I’ve had little—if any—time to enjoy what’s supposed to be the best year of high school. In one class alone, I’ve answered 180 multiple-choice questions, written six in-class essays and one eight-page research paper and summarized, cited and analyzed 50 newspaper articles. That’s not to say my other courses have been any easier, despite my intentions to enjoy my last year at Mclean.

The problem with the 12th-grade schedule, however, is that it includes more courses than what you see on the transcript. Take that fun class called Applications. For homework, you write a mess of college essays, fill out “supplement” after “supplement,” rush to get three types of response forms into the counselor, solicit teachers for recommendation essays, spend Saturday mornings taking—or retaking—tests you were supposed to have finished months ago, market yourself in college interviews, rush around the country visiting schools, fork over hundreds of dollars for application fees, convince your parents to let you apply out-of-state, fill out financial aid and scholarship forms—and, once all that’s said and done, pray for big, juicy packets to appear in the mailbox with “Congratulations!” on the front. Rest assured, underclassmen: your history paper will seem a breeze compared to the sort of work college applications has come to be. Oh, and don’t forget: this is one of the worst times you could ever apply for higher education, considering the competition and the costs.

All the while, the freshman have had quite a blast. They’ve had far more groups events than the Class of ’09, if you count the orientation session and McLeadership meetings. Each student has an upperclassmen that they can call on for homework help and advice. (Imagine if every senior had a freshman who would fill out college forms for them!) The Class of ’12 even boasts their very own room—G255—dedicated to them for after-school tutoring and relaxation. (What do the seniors get? A parking spot.)

I don’t want to sound underappreciative. After all, I’m looking forward to June as much as any other senior. Unfortunately, Hershey’s Park and Graduation are still hundreds of days away. In the meantime, I have applications due for colleges whose rejection rates have increased as steadily as my workload.

The rest of the school sees us when we’re at our happiest: socializing in the halls; looking goofy on the morning show; fighting for McLean on the field and the court; and, of course, driving home from school. That, at least, was how I used to perceive senior year. What underclassmen don’t see are our all-night homework sessions, our frantic studying for AP tests and our rush to get college applications taken care of. Rest assured, anyone who judges senior year by what they see in High School Musical 3 are in for quite a shock.

I admit it, freshmen: I wish I were one of you. Kids might have looked down on me (in more ways than one) when I was in the ninth grade, but at least I got to bed before midnight. At least I didn’t sweat over test scores and essay deadlines like I do now. We get a couple more privileges than you, but few of us have any time to enjoy them.

Enjoy your years as underclassmen, Class of 2012. After all, when your turn to be seniors rolls around, you may find yourself jealous of the Class of 2015.

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