By Greg Foley; Idaho Mountain Express
Return of El Niño likely to influence nation’s weather in different ways, agency states
The weather in the Northwest is likely to be warmer and drier than normal this coming winter, possibly leaving skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts longing for the heavy snowfalls of last year.
That’s according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, which released a set of official long-range weather forecasts on Thursday.
The forecast maps for the heart of the winter—December, January and February—indicate above-normal temperatures for most of the northern part of the country, including all of Idaho and the Northwest. For the southern part of the country, including the southern Rocky Mountains, the National Weather Service predicts equal chances of above-normal or below-normal temperatures.
The precipitation outlook for the same three months predicts below-normal precipitation for the Northwest—including all of Idaho—as well as in other parts of the North and the Great Lakes region. Much of the middle part of the country is predicted to have equal chances of above-normal or below-normal precipitation, while a large swath of the South is expected to see more precipitation than normal.
“That’s not to say it’s not going to snow and it’s not going to be cold. Idaho is a cold place.”
The forecast maps indicate that conditions in Idaho and much of the Northwest are likely to be more normal later in the winter and early spring.
For the last three winters, the United States has been under La Niña conditions. La Niña is a widespread cooling of water in the equatorial Pacific Ocean that can bring changes to weather patterns across the globe.
In June, the Climate Prediction Center announced that conditions had officially switched to El Niño, which is marked by above-average surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.
“Depending on its strength, El Niño can cause a range of impacts, such as increasing the risk of heavy rainfall and droughts in certain locations around the world,” said Michelle L’Heureux, climate scientist at the Climate Prediction Center, when the announcement was made.
El Niño’s influence on the U.S. climate is generally weak during the summer and becomes more pronounced in the late fall, winter and spring, the Climate Prediction Center stated in its June announcement.
“Depending on its strength, El Niño can cause a range of impacts.”
“Typically, moderate to strong El Niño conditions during the fall and winter result in wetter-than-average conditions from southern California to along the Gulf Coast and drier-than-average conditions in the Pacific Northwest and Ohio Valley,” the agency stated. “El Niño winters also bring better chances for warmer-than-average temperatures across the northern tier of the country.”
Andrew McKaughan, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Pocatello, said the predictions for Idaho and the Northwest are typical of what will happen during an El Niño event.
“That’s not to say it’s not going to snow and it’s not going to be cold,” he said. “Idaho is a cold place.”
With winter still months away, McKaughan also noted that the details of the forecasts could change.
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