Meteorologist Jeff Ray | CBS 11By Jeff Ray

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – This number keeps counting upward: the last time the DFW Airport recorded one inch of snow or more: 1,245 days.

  • The number of sunspots is down, part of a natural 11-year cycle that is currently in a downward trend.
  • This winter appears it may be an El Nino ‘Modoki’ winter. 
  • Could be devastating for California and its fire season
  • Raises the stakes for snow events in north Texas.

The last 1” (or more) snow at DFW happened on March 5, 2015. That snow was actually the after-midnight amount of a 3.5” snow event that started on March 4. But that was two winters ago, local school districts called many school days since then — a fact that makes kids cry and parents smile.

I know it is the [beginning] of August but my thoughts stay a season ahead usually, and lately I have been thinking about the winter. There are two reasons I am optimistic we might actually get some snow days this school year.

Sun surface on 8/01/2018 Showing Zero Sun Spots

The first involves the Solar Sun Spot cycle. The number of sunspots is down, part of a natural 11-year cycle that is currently in a downward trend. This last July the sunspot number was 1.6, the least since the last downward cycle in August of 2009. The fewer the sunspots the less energy output of the sun and there is a good case to be made that fewer sunspots mean colder winters.

A more consistent driver of our seasonal weather is the ENSO cycle. This is a naturally-occurring cycle in the equatorial Pacific where areas of warm and cold water (and changes in air patterns) move back and forth over the Pacific basin. This winter appears to be an El Nino’ winter. On average, El Nino winters bring more snow to north Texas than winters where conditions are neutral or in the opposite pattern La Nina.

The intensity of any El Nino this far out (and how deeply it affects us) is difficult to forecast. What is really worth noting however that there is a chance for not just an El Nino for something called a El Nino Modoki. “Modoki” is a Japanese word sort of meaning “almost.” The equator sea surface temperatures don’t span from the central Pacific all the way to South America. Instead, cool water resides just offshore of Ecuador and Peru. You can see the difference between the two kinds of El Nino below:

NOAA: Modoki El Nino is different from traditional El Nino because the SST warming is largely in the central equatorial Pacific region instead of in the eastern equatorial Pacific region.

What is the difference between the two in regards to our weather? More precipitation in north Texas in a Modoki version:

While this would be devastating for California and its fire season it raises the stakes for snow events in north Texas. With a forecast of a colder-than-normal winter and above-normal precipitation, the odds increase that — as the number of winter-precipitation events increase over north Texas with colder temperatures — the better the odds of snow hitting the DFW Airport.

All this said here is the place where I enter a string of caveats. Every El Nino is different; only when you look at a series of them can you ascertain an average. Also, this coming El Nino is NOT looking very strong so that makes its potential affect upon us even more subtle. The chance that there is an El Nino Modoki is even a slipper proposition: they are rare and the prediction science on these rather new.

As in all weather predictions, we will wait and see. Winter is coming regardless and the story will unfold in front of us and on our roads. With a dearth of snow in the Metroplex over the last two winters, it would seem we are due some of the white stuff. Forecasts of the weather pattern for this coming winter suggest the same.