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Don't place any bets on the weather unless you're prepared to lose some money.

Sure, more snowstorms will almost certainly sweep across Utah mountains and valleys, and temperatures will plunge below zero and then climb to above normal readings, even when snow is still on the ground.But the situation can change, sometimes very quickly and dramatically. All things considered, it's better to leave forecasting to the meteorologists. But even those skilled and with access to new technology and long-term climatological records readily confide that meteorology is not an exact science.

"The bottom line is that the state of science in meteorology does not permit very accurate long-range forecasts," said William J. Alder, meteorologist in charge of the Salt Lake office of the National Weather Service.

However, officials at the Climate Analysis Branch of the National Weather Service in Washington, D.C., have offered a few predictions for the months ahead.

With a 45-degree angle drawn from about Delta in Millard County to Coalville, Summit County, the federal officials say it appears that near normal amounts of precipitation will fall over northwestern Utah or above the 45-degree line during December. They say the rest of the state should receive above-normal amounts of moisture. Temperatures should be typical of December readings over the entire state.

Looking over the next three months, the national forecasters say near normal amounts of precipitation and below-normal temperatures should prevail in Utah.

Referring to climatological reports, Alder says that whenever Salt Lake City has had a very wet November, then December has been wetter than normal 80 percent of the time. Above normal snowfall has been recorded 60 percent of the time during December when the Utah capital city received a lot of snow during the preceding month. But drier than normal conditions have occurred 70 percent of the time during January and February, with an above-average number of days of heavy fog, haze and smoke.

Another scenario shows that forecasting the winter is really a tossup following a hot summer, as occurred during 1994 in Utah. Hot summers are sometimes followed by colder-than-normal winters, but other winters turn out to be warmer-than-normal or near-normal with precipitation usually below normal, Alder said.

The past summer was the hottest summer on record in Utah. Ironically, the summer of 1988 was the hottest previous summer on record, and it was followed by a record 172.5 inches of snow during November at Alta. But that record was topped when 206 inches of snow fell during the past month at the Cottonwood Canyon resort.

Further complicating forecasting efforts is that another "El Nino" pattern is under way. That means storm tracks start to split in the South Pacific, with one track headed for Arizona and Southern California and the other moving through Canada. The storm tracks tend to meet in the eastern part of the United States.

The Mexican term El Nino means "small child" and is so named because the weather phenomenon normally commences during the Christmas season.

"Each El Nino has been sort of different. Generally that typically means a drier winter in northern Utah. If any part of the state is especially wet this winter, it will be southern Utah. That is what usually happens. But I think we will still have a somewhat wetter-than-normal and colder-than-normal December. Then I think (the snow) will turn off for a while," Alder said.

If that's the case, most Utahns will have to endure more air stagnation, which the state largely escaped last winter. At the Salt Lake International Airport, only three days of heavy fog and 15 days of haze and smoke were recorded during the winter of 1993-1994. Heavy fog occurs when visibility drops to a quarter mile or less and heavy haze and smoke, when visibility drops to six miles or less.



How much snow?

Winter Amount

1994-95 (so far) 38.6 inches

1993-1994 39.0 inches

1992-1993 98.7 inches

1991-1992 38.5 inches

1990-1991 46.8 inches

1989-1990 36.0 inches

1988-1989 60.0 inches

Readings at Salt Lake airport.