Winter outlook: Average temperatures, near normal precipitation

Evan James Carter
The Detroit News

Winter is expected to be slightly warmer than usual, with less snow than normal, forecasts by the local National Weather Service office say. 

That means the polar vortex that dipped the Plains and Great Lakes regions into a deep freeze from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 is less likely to repeat in 2020. A low of minus 14 on Jan. 31 broke the record for Detroit's coldest ever on that date.

Michiganians who doubt the weather service's prognostication could rely on the "The Old Farmers Almanac," which calls for seven big snowstorms this winter across the continental U.S., including Michigan.

So far, snowfall in December has been below normal, with 0.8 inches through Dec. 20, according to the weather service. Typically, Detroit receives 9.7 inches of snow in December.  

This winter, southeast Michigan has an equal chance of being warmer or colder than normal, the National Weather Service says.

Temperatures are expected to dip below average in January, with average snowfall, according to the winter outlook from the weather service's  office in White Lake Township. Detroit's January snowfall average is 12.5 inches, according to weather service records.

Normal temperatures and snowfall levels are expected for February, the office said. Averages for that month are 28.1 degrees and 10.4 inches.

Winter Outlook for Southeast Michigan

Tom Benoit, a registered dietitian from Macomb, said he hasn't minded the mild temperatures in December because the cold affects his arthritis.

"As I get older, I'm not a fan of how cold it gets," Benoit said.

The warm trend continued Christmas Day, with temperatures at Detroit Metro Airport topping out at 54 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. That was 10 degrees below the record high for Dec. 25, set in 1982.

The local winter outlook for snow differs from the outlook produced by the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center, which said southeast Michigan could expect more rain, snow, hail, sleet and freezing rain after winter officially kicked in on Saturday.

The Climate Prediction Center also forecasts that the central and western regions of the state will have above average precipitation. Northern Michigan also is expected to have more precipitation than normal, though the climate center believes it will have less than areas to its south.

Dave Hellebuyck, 40, (l), General Manager at Hellebuyck's, he is seen pouring gas into John Williams, 62, of Roseville's new snow blower that he just purchase at the center.

According to Kyle Klein, a meteorologist at the weather service's White Lake Township office, this means there isn't a single climate indicator, such as El Niño, that leads climatologists to believe temperatures are trending colder or warmer than normal.

"(The climate outlook) will probably be more refined as it gets closer and we move into winter more," Klein said. 

There remains a good chance that winter temperatures will be normal, he said.

Meanwhile, "The Old Farmer's Almanac" continued a more than 200-year-old tradition of claims about snowfall Michigan can expect

The almanac boasts 80.5% accuracy on its website and warns that Michigan could get socked over the next three months.

"This snow-verload will include storms pummeling Washington state and points eastward across the northern-tier states into Michigan," according to the almanac's website.

This winter, southeastern Michigan has an equal chance of being warmer or colder than normal, the National Weather Service says.

Scott Lozon, general manager of Lozon True Value Hardware in River Rouge, said he's hoping for lackluster sales in December to improve as the season wears on. 

"When you get the later winter snow, people are already thinking spring, so it doesn't have the same impact (on sales as an earlier snow would)," Lozon said.

Last winter racked up 31 inches of snow, less than the 43 inches of normal annual snowfall, the weather service said. The average high temperature for December 2018 and January and February 2019 was 36. The average low was 22.

A polar vortex from Jan. 30 through Feb. 1 brought much colder temperatures after a large mass of frigid air from northern Canada swept through the Plains and Great Lakes regions, Klein said.

On Jan. 30, the high temperature was 1, with the low of minus 13 at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, where readings are taken. That morning, until midnight on Jan. 31, Consumers Energy called on customers to cut natural gas usage after a fire at its Ray Compressor Station in Macomb County.

Also see: Appeals flood consumers: Use less gas after utility fire

The area's coldest winter temperature recorded at Detroit Metro was minus 21 on Jan. 21, 1984, Klein said. The warmest was 80 degrees on Mar. 8, 2000. The one-day precipitation record was set on Feb. 1, 2015, when 13.7 inches of snow fell.

Snowblowers on display and for sale at Hellebuyck's Power Equipment Center in Warren, on November 7, 2019.

Dave Hellebuyck, chief operating officer of Hellebuyck's Power Equipment Center in Warren and Hellebuyck's Power Equipment in Shelby Township, said despite the mild season so far, new snow blower sales are up 18% over last year.

"Customers (are) coming in, saying, I've seen Farmer's Almanac says it's really going to come down this year,'" Hellebuyck said.

Mild maybe, but it's relative, according to Kayla Bowens.

Bowens, 21, who recently moved to Detroit from Nevada, said December has felt "very cold" to her.

"I was born here, but I grew up in Nevada," Bowens said. "I'm not going to lie, it's been terrible."

Twitter: @EvanJamesCarter