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NOAA: Variable Winter Patterns Challenge Forecasters

The absence of La Nina and El Nino in the equatorial Pacific Ocean this year has made predicting seasonal weather patterns more challenging, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said Thursday. Based on other climate patterns, forecasters now expect this year's winter season to be warmer than normal across the central part of the nation with dryer conditions to continue in the Southeast.

In its 2008-2009 U.S. winter outlook, NOAA said that climate patterns over the Arctic and North Atlantic regions may play a "significant" role in influencing U.S. winter weather.

"These patterns are only predictable a week or two in advance and could persist for weeks at a time," said NOAA's Michael Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center. "Therefore, we expect variability, or substantial changes in temperature and precipitation across much of the country."

In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, there are "equal chances" for above-, near- or below-normal temperatures and precipitation, according to the forecaster. The Southeast, meanwhile, should see an increased chance for above-normal temperatures in the central and western parts and below-normal precipitation.

The central region should see an increased chance of warmer-than-normal temperatures, while parts of the central Plains will have above-normal precipitation, according to NOAA. In the western region, forecasters see equal chances of above-, near- or below-normal temperatures, with an "enhanced likelihood" of below-normal precipitation in parts of the Southwest.

Milder-than-normal temperatures are forecast for Alaska, except along the southern coast, with equal chances for above-, near-, or below-normal precipitation. Meanwhile, in Hawaii, above-normal temperatures are forecast for the eastern part of the state, with temperatures below normal on the western edge. Precipitation levels in Hawaii are a toss-up, said forecasters.

NOAA's U.S. winter outlook does not include a snowfall forecast because the agency said winter storms "are generally not predictable more than several days in advance."

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