Ear to the ground

“Everbody knows if you are going to drink in the Ranch on a Monday afternoon, you should sit in the back.”

– Local 9-to-5-er spying a peer bellied up in broad daylight

Weather or not

The crystal balls do have one thing in agreement this year – winter is just around the corner. However, that’s about it. Last week, the meteorologists at the National Weather Service offered up one forecast of the winter of 2009-10. The mystics at the Old Farmer’s Almanac have published a nearly opposite prediction.

Opening day at Purgatory is roughly a month away, the weather balloons have been deployed in Fort Collins, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has issued its national winter forecast. In what could be a ski bummer, the agency is calling for warmer than average temperatures coupled with average precipitation for the Rockies. Though El Niño is in place and expected to strengthen in coming months, the climatologists are flipping a coin in terms of precipitation for the coming Colorado winter. They give the Rockies “equal chances” for above/below average snowfall.

Heavy rain and snow is expected in California and the southern border states, especially Texas and Florida. But whether that moisture streams into the Southwest remains an unknown.

“We expect El Niño to strengthen and persist through the winter months, providing clues as to what the weather will be like during the period,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center. “Warmer ocean water in the equatorial Pacific shifts the patterns of tropical rainfall that in turn change the strength and position of the jetstream and storms over the Pacific Ocean and the U.S.”

The Old Farmer’s Almanac has a different read on Old Man Winter. In contrast to NOAA, the Almanac forecaster “Caleb Weatherbee” is calling for “shivery conditions” and an “ice-cold sandwich winter.” He is expecting 75 percent of the nation to feel below-normal temperatures and the West and East coasts to be the only exceptions.

Though the weather phenomenon can be flippant, El Niño tends to favor the southern Rockies with abundant snowfall. However, Weatherbee is also bucking tradition and calling for drier-than-normal conditions to occur over the Southwest.

But once again, the coming winter weather could be anyone’s guess. Weatherbee does claim an 85 percent accuracy rating and makes his predictions two years in advance using a “top-secret” mathematical and astronomical formula. Prior to issuing his prognostication, he takes sunspot activity, tidal action, the position of the planet and other factors into consideration.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts, on the other hand, are based on statistical trends.