Will winter bring cold and snow, warm rain, or some combination of these to the Wasatch Mountains of Utah? Will the timing of cold and wet air masses moving into the region match up in such a way that snow results?

Elevation is the determinant in snowfall across this region, as it is in much of alpine country. Salt Lake City has an average annual snowfall of 58 inches, while Park City sees 360 inches on an average year.

So what can Wasatch County expect this coming winter, according to the Lords of Climate at the National Weather Service? Short and sweet: The NWS long-range forecast for the region calls for above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation. Thanks, Uncle Sam. For nothing.

The National Weather Service puts out long-range forecasts for the entire country. These prognostications are based on historic weather patterns, temperature and precipitation records, and other climate indicators from around the globe. They sometimes hit the nail on the head, but often do not.

Jeremy Davis, senior meteorologist with Weather Routing Inc., a weather service in upstate New York, says that long-range forecasts often miss the mark. Davis suggests that the devil in forecasting lies in the little details of timing that determine the shape of the weather.

"Whether you have snow or rain depends on exactly when the precipitation falls," Davis said. "It can be warm and dry, or cold and precipitating. The long-range forecasts missed the cold snap in January, and the rainy June."

Some seek counsel elsewhere. Do woolly bear caterpillars have thicker coats than normal? Are there more nuts falling, and are squirrels scampering even more madly than usual to store up winter food? It's a mystery why people ascribe powers of foreknowledge to insects, rodents, and nuts, but some do. After comparing long-range predictions with what actually happens, some conclude the critters and acorns are just as reliable as the scientists.