El Nino to Influence U.S. Winter Weather– Or Not, Say Forecasters

October 19, 2009

It will be a tale of two winters in the United States — warmer and drier than average in the North and wetter and cooler in the South — thanks to El Nino, according to government forecasters.

In its winter outlook covering December through February, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the El Nino phenomenon will be the dominant factor influencing weather across the United States. The impact of the weather anomaly in the Pacific Ocean is most evident during winter.

“We expect El Nino to strengthen and persist through the winter months, providing clues as to what the weather will be like during the period,” says Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service.

El Nino — ‘little boy’ in Spanish — is an abnormal warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific every four to five years, which can wreak havoc on weather patterns across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

NOAA forecast temperatures to be warmer than average across much of the western and central United States and below average in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic from southern and eastern Texas northward to southern Pennsylvania and south through Florida.

The forecast for the Northeast, the world’s largest heating oil market, called for equal chances of above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures and precipitation. Long-term forecasts for the region are difficult because weather there is generally not influenced by El Nino but by other factors.

In contrast to NOAA, AccuWeather.com last week forecast a weakening El Nino weather pattern that could lead to the stormiest and coldest U.S. winter in recent years.

Weather forecasters polled by Reuters tend to agree that the Northeast is in for a winter packed by more severe storms, and frequent blasts of arctic air.

For the U.S. Northwest, NOAA forecasters expect a warmer and drier season. It said similar conditions could be felt northward into Canada as the Winter Olympics take place in Vancouver — about 140 miles north of Seattle — in February.

“I would expect Vancouver to also be a dry and warm winter,” said Halpert. “But it could certainly be be cold enough for snow.”

Other highlights of the winter outlook:

Above-average precipitation expected in the southern border states, especially Texas and Florida. Recent rainfall and the prospects of more should ease current drought conditions in central and southern Texas.

Ohio and Tennessee river valleys expected to drier than average.

California to be wetter than average.

(Editing by Walter Bagley and David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker)

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