It won't be long until we're talking gloves, ice storms and snowmen. How bad will the weather be this winter?
Warmer-than-average temperatures for most of the nation are expected, according to federal forecasters from the Climate Prediction Center in their official winter weather forecast released Thursday.
This is primarily due to a developing El Niño, a natural climate pattern defined as unusually warm seawater in the central Pacific Ocean. It affects weather patterns in the USA and around the world.
Specifically, warmer-than-normal temperatures are forecast "across much of the northern and western U.S., with the greatest likelihood in Alaska and from the Pacific Northwest to the northern Plains," Mike Halpert, deputy director of the prediction center, said in a statement.
No part of the USA is favored to have below-average temperatures, Halpert said. As for the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Ohio Valley, there were no clear signals for either above- or below-average temperatures this winter.
Although the pattern hasn't formed, the climate center said El Niño has a 70 to 75 percent chance of developing this year. “We expect El Niño to be in place in late fall to early winter,” Halpert said.
A weak El Niño is expected, but "it may still influence the winter season by bringing wetter conditions across the southern United States and warmer, drier conditions to parts of the North,” he said.
The entire natural climate cycle is officially known as El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which swings between warmer and cooler seawater in the tropical Pacific. The cycle is the primary factor government scientists consider when announcing their winter weather forecast.
If the prediction comes true, it would continue a streak of unusually warm winters that goes back to the winter of 2015-16.
As for precipitation, a wetter-than-normal winter is forecast across the southern tier of the USA and up the East Coast into the Mid-Atlantic. Northern Florida and southern Georgia have the greatest odds for above-average precipitation this winter, the prediction center said.
The only parts of the country predicted to see an unusually dry winter are the northern Rockies and northern Plains, as well as the Great Lakes region.
Halpert warned that even during a warmer-than-average winter, periods of cold temperatures and snowfall are likely to occur.
This winter forecast does not specify how much precipitation will fall as rain, snow or ice, only that more is likely overall. Snow forecasts depend upon the strength and track of winter storms, which generally cannot be predicted more than a week in advance, the center said.
Other large-scale climate patterns in the atmosphere aren't included in this official forecast since they can't be predicted more than one or two weeks in advance.
These include the Arctic Oscillation – which influences the number of arctic air masses that penetrate into the South – and the Madden-Julian Oscillation, which can affect the number of heavy rain events along the West Coast.
As for how accurate these seasonal forecasts are, Halpert said they're 40 percent better than flipping a coin, and their predictive skill has increased in recent years.