AccuWeather's winter forecast for Pittsburgh region includes plenty of cold and snow
Snow and cold were the last thing on MacKenzie McGraw's mind as she and friends drank beer before Wednesday's final Pirates game of the season on a balmy October day.
"Winter will be fine. My Jeep goes through anything," McGraw of South Park said in 70-plus-degree weather.
She might need her powerful SUV.
This winter could bring a return of heavy snow in the Northeast and much of the Appalachians, according to a long-range prediction Wednesday from AccuWeather, a commercial weather service in State College.
"Things will start getting interesting after New Year's, late January and February. We will see more significant Arctic air and are likely to get more snowfall," said Paul Pastelok, AccuWeather's long-range forecaster.
Pittsburgh is likely to get at least the average annual snowfall of 42 inches, while parts of the Laurel Highlands and sections of Western Maryland are likely to get 60 to 80 inches of snow, slightly below normal, Pastelok said.
Then again, there are forecasts and there's what actually happens.
One year ago, AccuWeather predicted the winter of 2011-12 would be "another brutal one."
Yet people played golf in Chicago in January, and apple and cherry blossoms appeared five weeks early in New York and Michigan. The winter of 2011-12 ended up as the fourth-warmest winter on record in the country, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.
This year, AccuWeather expects cities east of Pittsburgh to get much more snow than last winter, which doesn't say much - Philadelphia had 4 inches of snow last winter, while New York City had 7.
What that means for the Pittsburgh region is less than clear, Pastelok said.
"Pittsburgh is kind of the western edge of this."
AccuWeather expects more lake-effect snow from the Great Lakes this year, Pastelok said.
The National Weather Service is less pessimistic than AccuWeather about chances of a harsh winter in Western Pennsylvania.
"Our region has about a 40 percent chance that temperatures will be above normal and a 50-50 chance that precipitation will be normal," said Lee Hendricks, a weather service meteorologist. Hendricks said his organization believes long-range snowfall forecasts are unreliable and NWS generally avoids them.
Last year's snowfall of 36.9 inches in Pittsburgh was 5 inches below the average annual snowfall of 41.9 inches.
The 77.4 inches of snow during the winter of 2009-10 made it the third-snowiest since record-keeping began in 1885. That winter and three others - 1992-93, 1993-94 and 1995-96 - are among the 10 snowiest winters since 1885.
Organizations such as PennDOT that must plan for winter pay little attention to long-range forecasts. PennDOT orders road salt based on snowfalls over a five-year period, said Jim Struzzi, a PennDOT spokesman.
"We don't base how much we buy on winters that are anomalies," he said.
Last year, PennDOT used 19,711 tons of salt in Allegheny County, less than half of the average annual amount of 44,692 tons.
Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.