Eric Elwell: Warm winter could lead to bigger problems this spring

Over the last couple of weeks, the most common question I’ve gotten from people is whether or not we would see a “big snow” before winter is over with.

When first thinking about how to respond to that question, my most immediate answer is that “we are only half way through winter, we have a long way to go”. Of course, it is also dependent on what your definition of a big snow is. When I think of a big snow, I think of a storm that can produce over 4 inches of snow. But the later we get into February, the lower the chances of a “big snow” will be.

Last week, my colleague meteorologist McCall Vrydaghs and I researched winters where we’ve had very little snow through the first half to see how often we then had a lot of snow in the second half. However, we could find no statistically compelling data that suggest the likelihood of that happening here in the Miami Valley as it seemed to happen about 50 percent of the time. While there is still a chance we could make up for the lack of snow thus far, much of the long range data suggests that may be very difficult for us to do this year as temperatures are likely to remain above normal the rest of the month. It is looking increasingly likely that if we have any “big snow” events, we may have to wait until March for them to occur.

This brings up another interesting piece of research that we discovered for the Miami Valley. Many have been commenting that our winters don’t quite seem as intense or severe as they use to be. Those who have lived in the Miami Valley or anywhere in Ohio since the 1970s likely will never forget the cold of 1977 and the blizzard of 1978. It seems it is very hard to compare any recent winters to those 30 or 40 years ago. It turns out our winters are indeed less severe than the 1970s.

According to climate research compiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average winter temperatures in the area have risen nearly 2 degrees in the last 45 years. While the warmer winters have been nice for some, the ecological and economic problems they create is concerning. The warmer winters have led to increased pollen levels and also more survival of agricultural pests each season. The lack of snow has also led to declines in business for local companies that depend on an active winter.

So while yes, many of us are ready for spring to begin, a good snow and sharp cold may not be such a bad thing. But if the current weather pattern we’ve had for much of the season continues, we may need more bug spray and allergy medications when spring really does arrive in a few weeks.

Eric Elwell is WHIO StormCenter 7 Chief Meteorologist. Contact him at or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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