GRAY, Maine — Aside from a few early snowfalls that quickly melted away, winter weather in recent years generally settled into a six- to eight-week period between January and March.
This year, the state has had standing snow in many places since early December. Does that mean Mainers can expect their six- to eight-week winter penance to be paid a month earlier than in recent years?
Experts say: No.
“That [logic] won’t hold water,” said Margaret Curtis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Gray office. “If that’ll make you happy, then wish for it. But it’s not really a good predictor.”
In fact, not only did the snow season start early, some forecasts call for it to end late. The Farmers’ Almanac, an annual Lewiston-based publication famous for its long-term weather predictions, foresees a wet snowstorm hitting Maine as late as April 16-19.
If that’s accurate, the winter of 2013-2014 could be a record breaker of sorts. The longest snow season on the books — defined in this scenario as being the longest stretch of consecutive days in which there was at least an inch of standing snow — came in 1923 in Portland, when the city had 127 straight days of snow cover.
In Bangor, the mark was set in 1944, when the Queen City spent 133 consecutive days under a blanket of the white stuff. That’s more than four straight months with snow.
If an inch of snow lingers on the ground at least through what the Farmers’ Almanac predicts will be a final hurrah storm in mid-April, both cities will approach the 140-day mark with standing snow.
And so far, the Farmers’ Almanac — which uses what it calls a “top secret mathematical and astronomical formula” to make its predictions and forecast bitter cold and heavy early snow for this season when it was released in the fall — has been pretty spot on. But almanac editor Peter Geiger, when looking into his proverbial crystal ball, isn’t using the opportunity to say, “I told you so.”
“I can handle anything through February, but in March and April, I get sick of it like everybody else,” he told the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday. “The pessimist in me says I think this will be a longer winter. Those last storms can be whoppers because there’s wet weather, or they could be duds.”
Geiger said his publication is warning of late-season snowstorms on approximately March 4-7 and March 28-31 in addition to the mid-April blast, so there should be plenty of snow to keep the ground covered along the way.
Curtis said that despite what she described as an annual snow season that has been “running a little late” in recent years, the National Weather Service agrees that the early arrival of regular snow doesn’t mean Mainers should expect an early arrival of spring-like weather.
Bernie Rayno, an expert senior meteorologist with AccuWeather.com who does the weather forecasts for Bangor ABC television affiliate WVII, said in his 24 years in the business, “sometimes that [rationale] works and sometimes that doesn’t.”
“But I don’t think you can say that since the snow arrived earlier, it’ll be gone earlier,” he said.
Curtis said her organization’s three-month outlook for weather is turning up “normal” for the state, meaning that instead of an early thaw, Mainers will see winter weather continue plodding along at least through March — as is statistically normal in these parts.
Portland averages 19.2 inches of snowfall in January, 12.1 inches in February and 12.7 inches in March. Bangor typically also gets 19.2 inches of snow in January, followed by 14.7 inches in February and 11.7 inches in March, Curtis said, so Mainers should brace themselves for numbers like those in the weeks and months ahead.
“Really, when it comes to winter, the best thing we can say is that it ain’t over until it’s over,” she said.
Rayno said the early cold and snow — and, potentially, by extension, the length of snow season — can be attributed to a stream of arctic air traveling from the northwest across Canada, then dipping down toward the eastern U.S. at around Alberta.
“If you drew a line from where all of our air has been coming from in the eastern United States, you can trace it all the way back up to Alaska and the Northwestern Territories,” he said.
Rayno said it’s difficult to pinpoint precisely why the arctic air — which is usually corralled much farther north in what’s known as the “polar vortex,” a term that has gotten more publicity in recent weeks as people have sought explanations for the recent stretches of bitter cold — is bending the way it is.
“The one thing I’ve learned in this field is that you can’t say, ‘This causes this or that causes that.’ There’s not one thing that causes one other thing,” he said, noting that scientists often attribute the air currents to “an interaction between the ocean water temperatures and the atmosphere.”
Simply put, Rayno said, “Every year, winter seems to target a region or two with the cold and snow, and there’s no question this year it’s been northern New England.”