Winter Temperatures Likely to Be Above Normal for Much of U.S.

  • Potential La Nina could push northern U.S. Great Plains cooler
  • Winter probably won’t bring much drought relief to California

Winter temperatures will probably be above average across much of the U.S., though it may still feel cooler than last year which saw record-setting warmth.

The southern U.S. from California to Virginia as well as parts of Maine are likely to be warmer than normal, with the greatest chance of heat in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center, said Thursday in a conference call. The outlook is less certain for the Northwest, Midwest, parts of the Mid-Atlantic and much of the Northeast.

The December-through-February forecasts are closely watched by energy traders as colder weather can boost demand for natural gas to heat homes and businesses. While gas demand peaks during the three-month winter season, fuel inventories are on pace to reach a record at the onset of the heating season.

“Last year was the warmest on record for the U.S., so the odds favor the winter to be cooler,” Halpert said. 

Only the northern Great Plains and parts of the Great Lakes region may experience a colder-than-normal winter, according to a forecast Thursday from the College Park, Maryland center. Those areas have a 33 percent to 40 percent chance of a winter chill.

La Nina

The forecast for cold in the north may hinge on whether a weak La Nina forms in the Pacific Ocean, Halpert said. The climate center raised the odds for La Nina, which can also bring drought to Brazil and flooding rains to Australia, last week,

There is also a chance other weather patterns, such as the Arctic Oscillation, will play significant roles in how the winter develops. Sporadic Arctic freezes area always possible, Halpert said.

“We will see delivers of cold air this winter because, well, it is going to be winter,” Halpert said.

There are equal chances most of California could get more rain than normal, less, or an average amount, leaving little hope that the state’s drought will be reversed by this winter alone. California has been gripped by drought for five years and a little over 92 percent of the state is abnormally dry or in one of the four phases of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“It is going to take a couple of wet winters in a row to put a big dent in this drought now,” said David Miskus, a meteorologist at the climate center. “It is going to take a while. Maybe many, many years.”

The Southern U.S. including the Gulf of Mexico states face a drier winter ahead.

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