Arkansas winter 2021-2022 outlook

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Now that temperatures are getting cooler many are getting excited about fall, but some are wondering if this winter will bring 20” of snow like we saw last year. 

When forecasting the weather, it is nearly impossible to accurately predict anything more than a week away. Therefore, most meteorologists only make a 7-day forecast. When forecasting for several months away we can look at long-term averages and ocean currents. 

Meteorological winter consists of December, January, and February. For a good idea of what we can expect this winter, we can look at long-term averages from those months. 

For the average December, the high temperature will be in the 50s and the low in the 30s. Little Rock averages just under 5” of rain and about 0.2” of snow. 

For the average January, the high temperature will be near 50 degrees with the low near 30 degrees. Little Rock averages about 3.3” of rain and about 1.6” of snowfall. 

For the average February, the high temperature will be in the 50s and the low in the 30s. Little Rock averages just under 5” of rain and about 1.3” of snow. 

These numbers do a good job to show that temperatures will get colder, and a little snow is possible, but it does not tell us anything else.  

To see if this winter will be warmer/colder or wetter/dryer than average we can look at ocean currents and the effect those have on our winter. The ocean current that affects our winter conditions the most is the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO). It is an ocean current in the Pacific off the coast of South America.  

When the current is in its warm phase it is called El Nino, and the winters over the United States tend to be warmer with less snow in the north, and cooler and wetter in the south. Arkansas is included in the cooler and wetter area. 

CREDIT: Climate Prediction Center

When the current is in its cool phase it is called La Nina, and the winters over the United States tend to be cooler with more snow in the north with dry and warm conditions in the south. Arkansas typically sees around average temperatures and slightly above average precipitation.  

CREDIT: Climate Prediction Center

This winter we are in a La Nina. The typical La Nina last about a year, but last year we were also in a La Nina. A La Nina that lasts this long is unique and has only been recorded 4 other times since 1950. In order to get a better idea of what this winter has to offer we can look back at those 4 winters where we had two La Ninas in a row.  

Looking at temperatures from those winters where we had a La Nina two years in a row. 3 out of 4 of those winters Little Rock had temperatures above average. Precipitation is the same, 3 out of the 4 winters saw well above average precipitation. There is a trend when it comes to snow, 3 out of the 4 winters saw little to no snowfall. Snow is tricky because Little Rock averages about 3” each winter, but all it takes is one big storm to skew the numbers (Last year is a great example).  

So, what can we expect this winter? Central Arkansas can expect to see slightly warmer and wetter than average conditions. As for snowfall, the trend is for very little, but all it takes is one storm to put us above our average of 3”. Last year’s snowstorms were abnormal, and it is unlikely we will see that again this winter. 

For more information about La Nina click here.

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