Mark Johnson's exclusive winter weather forecast

CLEVELAND - Many of you remember last winter as the winter that wasn't

Snow was an uncommon sight across northern Ohio. The snow total at Cleveland Hopkins Airport was 38 inches. That's literally about half of the normal snow total of 70 inches for Greater Cleveland. 

Akronand Canton measured 30 inches for the season. That's also down from the normal 48 inches of snow in Summit and Stark Counties. Last year, there were only three organized Lake Effect snow events: two in January and one in February. It's safe to say, snowfall was well below normal area-wide.

As one local snow plower put it: "We did not have a winter. We usually plow about 15 to 20 times. We plowed six times. We sat around and looked at each other, basically, and hoped that we could find something to do."

As for temperature, we started the winter out mild and ended it downright sultry. A major blocking pattern in Europe and Alaska kept the cold air bottled up elsewhere, and left a strong southerly wind flow across all areas east of the Mississippi River. Any cold air that did drop south into Ohio was quickly banished back north after just a few days. As a result, December, January and February temperatures averaged 4 to 6 degrees above normal.

And then there was March. March turned out to be the warmest since 1910. High temperatures soared into the 80s for several days. Average temperatures in March ended up a whopping 13 degrees above normal.

That warm weather pattern lingered into summer. We had 28 days of 90 degrees or higher at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. That's almost one third of summer. We haven't been this hot since 1988.

The logical question to ask is: Do weather patterns carry over season to season? The answer is usually no.

We had a hot, dry summer here in Ohio. But, already, you notice that fall has turned very cool and very wet. It has been a total pattern change.

So, now it's time to look ahead to the winter of 2012-2013.

To create a forecast, we, first, must look at ocean patterns. Temperatures of the world's oceans seriously affect the positions of high and low pressure systems around the world. Water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, along the US and Canadian West Coast.

This is known as the cold phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Last year, we were experience a much cooler Pacific Ocean temperature near the equator. That called a La Nina. This winter La Nina will likely be replaced by a weak El Nino.

Temperatures near the equator will be slightly warmer than normal.

Another important ocean pattern to consider is the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation. Water temperatures are currently much warmer than normal.

Next, we look at winters of the past that have had similar ocean temperature patterns. In this case, 1953, 1957 and 2002 fit the bill pretty closely.

For this upcoming northern Ohio Winter, I can see several waves of Arctic air spilling down from Central Canada. These cold air masses will not be quick to move out, like last year.

In between, we'll see a few days of moderating temperatures as well. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a pretty good mid-winter thaw for a week or so.

Although, every winter has variability, I expect this winter to produce temperatures BELOW normal, on average for December through March across Northern Ohio.

Colder temperatures, of course, provide more opportunity for snowfall throughout the winter. Our Lake Effect snow season should get off to a rousing start by late November or early December, as those cold air masses and northwest winds drop south across the Great Lakes.

I do expect snowfall overall to average near to, perhaps, slightly below normal for our area.

Of course, if any of our ocean patterns change, I'll be sure to update this forecast. In the mean time, find your winter coats and get the snow shovels ready.

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