Winter should be mostly mild with few blizzards, but much of US could see drought, forecasters say

  • Much of the nation’s southern tier and the East Coast should see warmer-than-average temperatures this winter.
  • The drought may end up being the main story of the winter.
  • The La Niña climate pattern is one of the main drivers of weather in the U.S. and around the world.

It won’t be long until we’re talking wool hats, ice storms and snowmen. How bad will your weather be this winter? 

If you hate the cold, there’s good news for some of you: Federal forecasters said Thursday that much of the nation’s southern tier and the East Coast should see warmer-than-average temperatures this winter. As well, most of the southern half of the U.S. – all the way from central California to the Carolinas – should also see less rain and snow than usual. 

However, the lack of precipitation for the southern tier of the country does not bode well for the drought, which may end up being the main weather story of the winter, especially in the already-parched Southwest, experts said.

“With a La Niña climate pattern in place, southern parts of the U.S. may experience expanded and intensifying drought during the winter months ahead,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency that issued the forecast, which covers the months of December, January and February.

The La Niña climate pattern – a natural cycle marked by cooler-than-average ocean water in the central Pacific Ocean – is one of the main drivers of weather in the U.S. and around the world, especially during the late fall, winter and early spring.

“With La Niña well established and expected to persist through the upcoming 2020 winter season, we anticipate the typical, cooler, wetter North, and warmer, drier South, as the most likely outcome of winter weather that the U.S. will experience this year,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, in a statement.

La Niña is the opposite pattern of the more well-known El Niño, which features warmer-than-average ocean water in the central Pacific Ocean. 

Two parts of the country that should see below-normal temperatures this winter are the northern Plains and the Pacific Northwest, NOAA said. Those areas, along with the Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley, should also see more rain and snow than usual.

NOAA's 2020-21 winter temperature outlook predicts warmer-than-normal temperatures for most of the southern and eastern U.S. (in red and orange). Only the northern Plains and Northwest (in blue) should be cooler-than-average.

This winter forecast does not specify how much precipitation will fall as rain, snow or ice, only that more or less 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.

Still, Halpert said that La Niña winters tend to not feature the blockbuster East Coast winter storms or blizzards that can paralyze the big northeastern cities. That’s more likely with El Niño, he said. But he added that extreme events are not something meteorologists can see in seasonal forecasts.

Other large-scale climate patterns in the atmosphere also 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 and the North Atlantic Oscillation, which influence  the number and intensity of arctic air masses that overspread the central and eastern U.S.

In addition, Halpert also said he doesn’t expect the dreaded polar vortex to be much of a factor this year, except potentially in the northern Plains and Great Lakes.

La Niña also dominates the forecast by AccuWeather. That private company is forecasting mainly dry in the South, wet and snowy in the Pacific Northwest, bouts of snow and rain from Minneapolis through the Great Lakes region, big swings in the heartland and mild weather in the mid-Atlantic.

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The precipitation outlook for the U.S. for the winter of 2020-21, according to NOAA. While the southern tier of the U.S. should be drier-than-average (brown), much of the north should be wetter-than-average (green.)

Contributing: The Associated Press

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