A tale of two winters?

Curt Anderson clears snow off his vechicle in downtown Austin last February as tthe year's biggest storm moved through. Herald file photo

Curt Anderson clears snow off his vechicle in downtown Austin last February as tthe year’s biggest storm moved through. Herald file photo

Temperatures are getting colder and Mower County is headed for winter once more. Yet one of the first questions everyone will have once the snow hits the ground is whether this year will look — and feel — a lot like last year’s record-setting cold weather.

Fear not: though some forecasters are on the fence about the upcoming winter season, the National Weather Service is predicting a long-term forecast of an average winter. Yet NWS meteorologists caution residents to take any long-term forecast with a grain of salt.

Heavy snow from last February's storm falls as a loader removes snow from the drive of Twin Towers Thursday afternoon. Herald file photo

Heavy snow from last February’s storm falls as a loader removes snow from the drive of Twin Towers Thursday afternoon. Herald file photo

“It’s hard to say, certainly,” NWS meteorologist Todd Shea said. “If you look at winter outlooks in general, the accuracy is sometimes suspect.”

Several forecasters, including the national Climate Prediction Center, believe this winter will be warmer than normal, while other weather gurus like the Farmers’ Almanac think the upcoming season is going to be just as bitterly cold and miserable as last year.

There were 51 days in Austin with temperatures below zero last winter, which beat the city’s old record of 48 days in 1955-1956.

Thus far, Austin has had almost-average weather this fall, and almost the same average temperatures in October as 2013. Shea said the first part of October had below average temperatures before a rise in temps in mid-October. Yet this Halloween was colder than last year, with a 37-degree high on Friday compared to a high in the mid-50s in 2013.

It may be difficult to predict this winter’s weather, but area officials are getting ready all the same. Austin Utilities officials have already bought gas reserves, but general manager Mark Nibaur said utility workers have new equipment this year to prepare for any frozen pipes.

“We’re looking at that as another piece of added equipment and service to the community,” Nibaur said.

The equipment would use steam to help thaw pipes in the city. Last winter, 167 homes reported frozen pipes to Austin Utilities, while the average winter has about five homes that report frozen lines.

Nibaur said utility workers are still determining how best to use that equipment.

Residents should still prepare for winter like normal, according to Shea.

“I’d advise everybody to follow winter safety guidelines,” he said.

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