Solving the riddle of winter

Published 6:01am Sunday, November 24, 2013

What will the coming winter be like?

That’s hard to tell this time around the sun. National Weather Service climate experts say the warming of water in the Pacific Ocean called El Niño and other signals and patterns aren’t giving an indication of what winter weather will be like.

“Without El Niño or La Niña present, we often use recent climate trends to get insight about what might arise,” said Mike Halpert of the Climate Prediction Center.

The past 15 winters have not been all that different for the most of the Midwest, he said, but “there’s been a small tendency for wetter conditions.”

He said other patterns that affect wintry weather, such as the Arctic oscillation that impacts the jet stream, are not predictable beyond a week or two.

For the United States, it appears the drought will be a continuing issue this winter, Halpert said.

The U.S. Drought Monitor presently lists Freeborn and Mower Counties as abnormally dry, with much of southwestern Minnesota and the Twin Cities area as in a moderate drought. A wet winter could change that if enough moisture can get into the ground during the spring thaw.

Countrywide, Halpert said the outlook favors drier-than-usual weather for parts of the South and a wetter-than-usual winter in the northern Rockies. He said Texas and surrounding states and parts of western Alaska, have an elevated chance of being warmer than average.

North Dakota, the northern Great Plains and the Alaska panhandle have an elevated chance of being colder than average. The rest of the United States — including Freeborn County, most of Minnesota and all of Iowa — has what the Climate Prediction Center calls an “equal chance.”

It described that as meaning “there is no tilt in the odds toward either above- or below- average temperature or precipitation.”

In other words, a typical Minnesota winter — Arctic blasts one week to bring bitter cold, followed by a few days of calm air with sunny skies, followed by a few days with slightly warming southwestern winds to make everyone really feel optimistic again, only to have hopes dashed by yet another Arctic blast. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat some more.


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