So How Cold Will This Winter Be? Weather Forecasters Are Fighting About the Possible Return of the Polar Vortex (Shudder)

DETROIT, MI - JANUARY 6: Alison Mueller skies to work through several inches of snow along Woodward Avenue as the area deals with record breaking freezing weather January 6, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. Michigan and most of the Midwest received their first major snow storm of 2014 last week and subzero temperatures are expected most of this week with wind-chill driving temperatures down to 50-70 degrees below zero. A 'polar vortex' weather pattern is bringing some of the coldest weather the U.S. has had in almost 20 years. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
Source: Joshua Lott/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Normally when people fight about crazy weather, it means that climate deniers are fightin' them hippie liberals about the (absolutely certain) existence of global warming. But this year's weather beef isn't between partisan talking heads, it's between weather forecasters. With the release of their winter forecasts this  month, the Weather Channel and AccuWeather, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center showed some serious discrepancies. All we want to know is how cold will it actually be this winter?

The Weather Channel and AccuWeather both predicted that the country will face another bout of the polar vortex this winter. Do you remember the polar vortex? Rush Limbaugh thought it was a myth, but as someone who had to dig the way to her car with a windchill of negative 15 degrees, let me tell you something, Rush, IT EXISTED. For the love of God I hope that the two commercial stations are wrong. The NOAA, who I like to believe are magical weather soothsayers, doesn't think it will dip down south enough to touch the United States, meaning warmer-than-average temperatures in the western part of the country and New England. 

AccuWeather's extended forecasts hasn't been praised for their accuracy or overall usefulness. They defended their 45-day forecast, which they rolled out last year, by saying that its predictions weren't strict guidelines. Sure, I buy that. But I could also give you some loose weather predictions in which tropical weather sweeps the midwest through February and they open my pool back up. That doesn't mean its coming true.

The Weather Channel, however, is a little more solid. And they have soft jazz. Their predictions aren't usually as far-reaching as AccuWeather, and they certainly have a better reputation. 

So does that mean...?

The federal NOAA is clear about its data sourcing for its fairly non-binding prediction. They believe that weak El Nino will form toward the end of 2014, which would push warm air rather than cold Arctic ones. This would make severe climate conditions needed for another pOlAr VoRtEx almost impossible. In its report, it even goes as far as to question the one science-y prediction from the Weather Channel, which linked thick Siberian snowpacks to another cold one for the U.S. The NOAA noted that the idea was intriguing, but said that the proven cause-and-effect wasn't there. 

So, on the one hand, we have two commercial weather services that love nothing more than whipping up one million SNOW WATCH intros, and we have the government, which the liberals are secretly running to convince innocent bystanders that climate change is real.

Adam Sobel, professor at Columbia University's Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics (DOESN'T HE SOUND SMART?) told AlterNet that there was one more reliable source

The NOAA forecast is truer to the science in that it is stated in terms of probabilities, and does not express a high degree of confidence in any one outcome. That doesn’t mean it won’t be a cold winter, as AccuWeather says; it might be. It just means there is no way of being anywhere near as certain as their forecast implies.

OK. So basically, just play it safe and people won't ride you for being hyperbolic. Glad we cleared all of that up.

Conclusion: Science says we probably won't have another polar vortex, but don't get too cocky either way because the weather is unpredictable. And also, if lack of actual certainty is a job skill, I am absolutely becoming a weatherperson. 

Images: Getty Images

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