Northern California could see average to above-average precipitation this winter, if some extended forecasts hold true.
State water and fire experts say that would be a welcome sight in the central Sierra Nevada region, which is showing effects of a dry winter.
“The Old Farmers Almanac” is predicting mild temperatures this winter for the Pacific Coast region, according to the publication’s annual Weather Outlook. But almanac editor Peter Geiger said that the book is also predicting normal to above-normal snowfall in California’s mountains and a possibility of heavy snowfall in late December.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a winter without snow,” Geiger said on Friday.
That would be a change from last winter, when the central Sierra Nevada mountains received significantly less snowfall than normal. California saw its second driest winter ever last year, according to the almanac.
And the Sierra snowpack — the source of the region’s water — finished the season at about 50 percent of average, helped only by late spring snow in March.
A 220-year-old reference book, “The Old Farmers Almanac” predicts the year’s overall weather trends at the end of each summer. This year’s edition, which was released in late August, suggests that the West Coast and Midwest will see a mild winter with near average precipitation, while the East Coast should expect a cold winter with lots of rain and snow.
Geiger said the book uses calculations, sunspot counts and lunar positions to predict the year’s weather with “between 75 and 85 percent” accuracy. Last year’s almanac did predict the extreme heat that gripped much of the country and stifled the midwest, though it also incorrectly predicted a cold, wet winter last year for the region.
The almanac is not the only forecaster looking ahead to a more normal winter. The National Weather Service is predicting the likelihood for slightly above-normal precipitation levels for central California January through March.
Accuweather, a weather forecasting organization, is predicting a similar outcome with a likelihood for slightly above normal temperatures.
Alan Reppert, senior meteorologist for Accuweather, said on Friday that’s because an ocean warming phenomenon called El Nino is setting up.
“For winter, we’re looking for probably above normal snowfall for the area this year,” Reppert said.
If that turns out to be true, its effects will last beyond the winter. Last year’s low snowpack has meant drier vegetation and lower water levels this summer than typical for the Mother Lode. Flows in the state’s rivers were at about 60 percent of normal this year, according to the state Department of Water Resources.
Luckily, last year’s snowfall won’t have much bearing on next year’s water supply.
Maury Roos, chief hydrologist for the department, said there’s really no carryover in the snowpack from year to year since most melts by the fall.
“It all depends on what we get this coming season,” Roos said.
The water could help with future fire prevention in the area, as well. The dry winter has contributed to an active fire season so far for the region, with fires popping up even at high elevations due to dry fuel.
According to Nancy Longmore, a fire prevention specialist with Cal Fire, winter weather can affect fire danger a couple ways. It can spur more growth, which increases fuel. But it can also add moisture to the larger vegetation, and helps prevent insect infestations that kill trees.
“The trees and brush are really dry,” Longmore said. “We’re hoping for a more normal winter this year.”