Warm winter? More snow? Be careful with long-range forecasts

WYTV's meteorologists say short-term forecasts are typically on point, but long ones are mostly based off trends.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – There have been a lot of winter weather outlooks published so far.

Some say it’s going to be warmer, some say that we could see more snow. But you have to be careful, because the way we look at the climate is totally different than a seven-day forecast.

“A short-term forecast — I’m talking tonight and tomorrow — we’re pretty exact on,” said Chief Meteorologist Paul Wetzl.

Short-term forecasts are computed by weather models, while long-term forecasts are based on what we typically see.

“The longer range forecast is more of a trend,” Wetzl; says. “It’s basically what you assume that some sort of a trend is going to come together — be it get warmer, wetter, snowier.”

So in order to understand the difference in weather forecasting and climate prediction, you have to understand math behind it.

“What it’s about is that we use data,” said Dr. Kerns, a professor of mathematics at YSU. “We collect data and we use data as evidence to investigate, to study stuff.”

Dr. Kerns says it is almost impossible to pinpoint an exact temperature or snowfall total for winter this far in advance.

“That concrete number is likely that it will be different than the actual number or mean we try to estimate,” Kerns said.

That’s why long range forecasts use ranges and percentages to guess on the trends we could see this winter.

“When you look out, longer range, those percentages and degrees above or below normal, they don’t mean quite as much,” Wetzl says.

So even if we say that we could be warmer this winter, there is still a really good chance we could see several cold snaps and snow events just like last winter.