Find out what winter has in store for your state this year


Every year—around October, if we're not especially impatient—we get excited for the snow forecast. Summer has finally faded (kinda) and there’s a chill in the air (sorta). All we want to know is whether we’ll get a big ol’ snowstorm that forces us to snuggle up inside with endless hot chocolate and zero obligations.

So, sorry in advance. This isn’t that kind of forecast—the one you want doesn’t exist.

Meteorologists use sensors placed around the globe, both on the surface and inside satellites high above, that feed into supercomputers to create intricate weather models. They do this in an attempt to predict what the climate will look like a few months from now, but they still can’t tell us whether Boston will get a snow dump this year. The fault is not in our meteorologists, but in our atmosphere.

22 PHOTOS
Severe weather in the US 2017 -- tornadoes, snowstorms, flooding, hail
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Severe weather in the US 2017 -- tornadoes, snowstorms, flooding, hail
Abdel Salah, the owner of Sam's Food and Liquor Store surveys damage after a series of tornados tore through in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Ben Depp
Heavy thunderstorm clouds fill the sky over Center City Philadelphia, PA, on Feb. 25, 2017. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Residents clear their cars and street of snow in Weehawken, New Jersey, as the One World Trade Center and lower Manhattan are seen after a snowstorm in New York, U.S. March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
PERRYVILLE, MO - MARCH 01: A utility pole was downed during last night's tornado on March 1, 2017 in Perryville, Missouri. At least one person was killed when the tornado crossed interstate 55. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Birds sit on some branches in Central Park in New York on March 14, 2017. Winter Storm Stella dumped sleet and snow across the northeastern United States on Tuesday but spared New York from the worst after authorities cancelled thousands of flights and shut schools. Blizzard warnings were in effect in parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts and upstate New York, but were lifted for New York City, the US financial capital home to 8.4 million residents, where snow turned to sleet, hail and rain. / AFP PHOTO / Eric BARADAT (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)
PERRYVILLE, MO - MARCH 01: A house along Pcr 906 is destroyed after last night's tornado on March 1, 2017 in Perryville, Missouri. At least one person was killed when the tornado crossed interstate 55. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Heavy thunderstorm clouds fill the sky over Center City Philadelphia, PA, on Feb. 25, 2017. (Photo by Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
PERRYVILLE, MO - MARCH 01: A shed for farm equipment on Pcr 906 collapsed and metal sheeting was tangled in trees after last night's tornado, on March 1, 2017 in Perryville, Missouri. At least one person was killed when the tornado crossed interstate 55. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
PERRYVILLE, MO - MARCH 01: A house and garage were destroyed on Hwy V after last night's tornado on March 1, 2017 in Perryville, Missouri. At least one person was killed when the tornado crossed interstate 55. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
A resident clears the street of snow in Weehawken, New Jersey, as the Empire State Building and Middle Manhattan are seen after a snowstorm in New York, U.S. March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Debris covers a street in New Orleans East after a series of tornados tore through New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, leaving trees, power lines and homes and businesses leveled, in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Ben Depp
Tien Nguyen cleans up debris in "Q" Nail studio on Chef Menteur highway which he and his wife own, they survived the tornado by sheltering in the bathroom, a tornados tore through New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana, leaving trees, power lines and homes and businesses leveled, in New Orleans, Louisiana, February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Ben Depp
Two snowmen sit in Central Park in New York on March 14, 2017. Winter Storm Stella dumped sleet and snow across the northeastern United States on Tuesday but spared New York from the worst after authorities cancelled thousands of flights and shut schools. Blizzard warnings were in effect in parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts and upstate New York, but were lifted for New York City, the US financial capital home to 8.4 million residents, where snow turned to sleet, hail and rain. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Trailers lie on their sides behind a Procter and Gamble warehouse after a tornado ripped through the area on Sunday in Albany, Georgia, U.S. January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Tami Chappell
A snowplow clears snow in Times Square during a snowstorm in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S. March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
A gas sign from a gas station sits in a tree nearby after a tornado ripped through the area on Sunday in Albany, Georgia, U.S. January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Tami Chappell
Friends used there snow day to go sledding on a hill at 47th street northwest and Massachusetts Avenue in Washington on March 14, 2017. Winter Storm Stella dumped sleet and snow across the northeastern United States on Tuesday but spared New York from the worst after authorities cancelled thousands of flights and shut schools. Blizzard warnings were in effect in parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts and upstate New York, but were lifted for New York City, the US financial capital home to 8.4 million residents, where snow turned to sleet, hail and rain. / AFP PHOTO / Tasos Katopodis (Photo credit should read TASOS KATOPODIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A police car pushes a cab stuck on a snow and sleet-covered street in New York on March 14, 2017. Winter Storm Stella dumped sleet and snow across the northeastern United States on Tuesday but spared New York from the worst after authorities cancelled thousands of flights and shut schools. Blizzard warnings were in effect in parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts and upstate New York, but were lifted for New York City, the US financial capital home to 8.4 million residents, where snow turned to sleet, hail and rain. / AFP PHOTO / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
The Rustic Barn, an event hall, which suffered major tornado damage, is seen from an unmanned aerial vehicle in Canton, Texas, April 30, 2017. REUTERS/Brandon Wade TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Homeowners clean up debris after a tornado hit the town of Emory, Texas, U.S. April 30, 2017. REUTERS/Brandon Wade
Homes are severely damaged after a tornado hit the town of Emory, Texas, U.S. April 30, 2017. REUTERS/Brandon Wade
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Weather is chaotic in the truest sense of the word. The father of chaos theory, Edward Lorenz, pioneered the world of weather prediction and coined the term “butterfly effect” to describe climate systems. He discovered that even minuscule differences in the initial conditions of a model will produce drastic changes in the outcomes (a butterfly flapping its wings turns into a hurricane, etc.). Since Lorenz’s work in the 1950s and 60s, meteorologists and their computer simulations have produced better and better predictions. But they simply cannot and will not give us a definitive forecast this far out. Not yet, anyway.

What they can do is offer a general outlook. There are a lot of common weather patterns, and by using observations of current conditions scientists can estimate what each winter will look like—but there are no guarantees.

The current climate looks like it’s developing into a La Niña system, which would mean a winter much like last year’s—but perhaps less extreme. A cooling patch of the Pacific Ocean will shift the polar and Pacific jet streams to bring cold, wet weather to the north and warm, dry weather to the south. Generally speaking, anyway. We’re likely to experience a weak La Niña year, so the effects won’t be too intense, but NOAA researchers have yet to confirm whether the system has fully developed. They need a couple more months of data collection to do that.

Odds are that the La Niña watch will turn into an advisory, which means all the necessary conditions have been observed. But Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, doesn’t think it’s likely to develop beyond a weak system. Even if it turns into a moderately strong one, he says, the forecast isn't going to change all that much. If anything, meteorologists would just become more confident in the prediction they've already made. The only significant changes will come if the La Niña system fails to develop entirely, in which case everything is kind of up in the (literal and metaphorical) air.

You might notice that this forecast totally fails to make a call for or against a particularly snowy year. That’s because NOAA doesn’t provide snow predictions for the winter. Meteorologists still can’t accurately call snowstorms a week out—let alone for an upcoming season. Whether or not an area gets snow or rain depends too much on local conditions, and it only takes a variation of less than one degree Fahrenheit for a heavy snowfall to turn into a downpour.

The only thing forecasters can really say for now is that should the La Niña persist, snowstorms tend to move to the north and west. That would mean more precipitation inland in the Northeast and less along the coast and in the mid-Atlantic. But again—that’s just an estimation. Should the right butterfly flap its wings in Beijing, we may see a blizzard.

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