It's that time of year when the questions starts up again: How much snow will we get this winter? And how cold will it be?

As I've mentioned before, these are very difficult questions to answer with any certainty. I can tell you that if the basic weather pattern we've been in the last few months persists, this coming winter will lean toward the cold and snowy side. But will the pattern hold? That I don't know.

Heading into the last three winters, we've actually had a clue that allowed meteorologists to hedge their bets on the winter forecast - there's either been an El Nino or a La Nina. These warmings and coolings of the tropical Pacific Ocean have a somewhat predictable ripple effect that allowed U.S. forecasters to pin down the general flavor of the winter to come. This winter, it looks like both El Nino and La Nina are out of the picture. So without a sheep dog driving the herd, so to speak, that leaves the forecast even more muddled than usual.

I can tell you that the fuzziness of the wooly-bear caterpillars, the acorn-gathering habits of the squirrels, and - please forgive me for this one - the Old Farmer's Almanac, don't provide any consistently useful information either. I'm not saying that these sources are never accurate - just that they're not right any more than what you'd expect by chance.

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