A mild winter on tap? Well, not so fast …

Linda Gallagher, Contributing Writer

Courtesy photo

In its official winter forecast of Oct. 18, the National Weather Service called for a milder than normal winter, but warned that could change, depending on the effects of an El Nino and other climate patterns.


REGION – In today’s world, meteorologists note that when it comes to predicting the severity of the winter ahead, it's all about a phenomenon called "El Nino."

They say a strong El Nino in the atmosphere means a mild winter. A weak El Nino – well, get your mittens and shovel out, you'll need them.

Earlier this fall, all indications pointed to a strong El Nino and a weak winter.

But now, they're not so sure.

In its Oct. 18 official winter prediction forecast for the period between Dec. 1 and Feb. 28, the National Weather Service said, "A mild winter could be in store for much of the United States this winter according to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. In the U.S. Winter Outlook for December through February, above-average temperatures are most likely across the northern and western U.S., Alaska and Hawaii."

The official outlook goes on to say, "Although a weak El Nino is expected, 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.”

El Nino is an ocean-atmosphere climate interaction that is linked to periodic warming in sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. During the winter, typical El Nino conditions in the U.S. can include wetter-than-average precipitation in the South and drier conditions in parts of the North.

Other climate patterns that can also affect winter weather – such as the "Arctic Oscillation" and Madden-Julian Oscillation – can be more challenging to predict on a seasonal time scale.

And don't forget that phrase we hear so often in this area of the Great Lakes – lake effect, which is when warmer than normal water in Lake Michigan meets with cold air masses above, creating sudden, often heavy snowfall that is very hard to predict at all.

"So, for now, we can tell you that although we will have snow here in northwestern Michigan, as we always do, we may not have a lot of snow – and although it will be cold, it may not be as cold as previous winters have been," said Gaylord NWS meteorologist David Lawrence.

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