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Can Elko handle another winter like the one we had last year?

National Weather Service officials came out with their winter climate prediction this week, indicating northeastern Nevada may see warmer than normal temperatures and average precipitation. That contradicts The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which puts our part of the country in the “cold and snowy” category.

Apparently, global climate change is easier for scientists to pin down than what might happen a month or two from now.

Last winter brought severe flooding to Northern Nevada. No one seemed to have noticed the heavy amount of low-elevation snow that had piled up from the winter’s series of storms. Then warmer temperatures and heavy rain sent the melting mess into the valleys, flooding Elko, Wells, Montello and other communities in February.

There was enough high-elevation snow to keep the Ruby Mountains partially snow-capped throughout the summer. By the time the water year ended Sept. 30, Elko had received more than 15 inches of precipitation – compared with an annual average of just under 10 inches.

The winter snowstorms were welcomed (at first) because of the years of drought that left most Northern Nevada reservoirs in a shrunken state. They quickly refilled with the season’s snowmelt.

The consensus this fall is we don’t want another high-precipitation winter. Maybe an average amount would be fine, but not the huge snowpacks like we saw last winter.

We’re hoping the National Weather Service’s forecast is more accurate than The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Warmer than normal temperatures would be fine, along with normal precipitation (the forecast puts northeastern Nevada in the “crap shoot” category, which could either be more or less than normal).

That sounds more comfortable and reasonable than “cold and snowy.” So, how does the Old Farmer decide what the winter will be like?

“The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s predictions are based on a top-secret formula, involving a complicated mathematical formula devised by founder Robert B. Thomas in 1792 that takes sun spots, planetary positions and tidal patterns into account,” states a Time magazine article.

The almanac claims to be 80 percent accurate.

Despite some modern refinements in the formula, however, critics say it is not reliable. At issue is the amount of impact caused by the El Niño effect, a term that most Americans are familiar with even if they don’t have a clue what it means.

The National Weather Service puts more importance on the phenomenon, even mentioning a probability in this winter’s forecast that La Niña will come into play.

El Niño is considered the warm phase in which Pacific Ocean temperatures are higher than normal, while La Niña involves colder than normal waters.

If La Niña strikes this winter, which the weather service predicts a better than 50 percent chance of happening, it should mean colder than normal temperatures in the Northwest.

That’s what the agency is predicting, but only in the extreme northwestern U.S. Those of us living in northeastern Nevada are far enough away that temperatures have a 33 percent chance of being warmer than normal.

We’ll buy that.

If this winter turns out to be cold and snowy, next fall we will buy The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Members of the Elko Daily Free Press editorial board are Travis Quast, Jeffry Mullins and Suzanne Featherston.

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