Severe cold will hit Alaska and portions of Canada during winter 2010-11, and the worst of the season’s cold and snow will dominate the Pacific Northwest, northern Plains and western Great Lakes areas, but the U.S. East Coast will be granted a reprieve from the heavy snowfall it experienced last winter, according to Chief Long Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi.

Much of the coming winter’s weather pattern might be spawned by a weakening El Nino — the warming of surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean — the forecaster said.

Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis could be in the heaviest snow zone and other cities in the nation’s northern tier, including Detroit, Seattle and Portland, could receive above-normal snowfall, Bastardi said. At the same time, Washington, DC, and New York City will probably experience normal amounts of snowfall. And while the East is likely to see winter get off to a fast start, with temperatures tumbling in November and December, much of the country could enjoy a major thaw in January, he said.

Temperatures in some western cities could be significantly colder than normal this winter, according to Bastardi, who said Denver will be about 2 degrees below its winter average, Salt Lake City 1-3 degrees colder than normal and Los Angeles and San Francisco about 1.5 degrees colder than normal. Farther east, Bastardi sees Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City and Minneapolis a degree or so cooler than average, while population centers in the East, including New York City, Boston and Washington, DC, will experience slightly higher-than-normal temperatures. The South and southern Plains will escape the worst of the winter weather with warmer and drier conditions compared with last year, though they could still experience a couple of ice storms, Bastardi said. Florida and the Gulf Coast will be dominated by warmer-than-normal temperatures.

Southern California and portions of the Southwest could suffer through a severe drought this winter, possibly prompting strict water management for Southern California by next spring, while San Francisco and areas to the north could see more precipitation and a buildup of western snowpack, Bastardi said.

The active hurricane season that Bastardi and others have predicted this year is one of the indicators of likely weather conditions this winter, according to Bastardi. In years with significant tropical storm landfall, including 1995, 2005 and 2008, cold weather typically spreads across much of the eastern and central portions of the United States in December, he said.

Bastardi has said a collapsing El Nino pattern in the Pacific Ocean could help make 2010 one of the most active seasons on record (see Daily GPI, May 20). Other forecasters calling for increased Atlantic hurricane activity this year include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) (see Daily GPI, July 16; May 28), WSI Corp. (see Daily GPI, June 23), and Colorado State University (CSU) (see Daily GPI, June 3). NOAA and CSU are each scheduled to release updated hurricane forecasts this week.

The first two named storms of the 2010 Atlantic season, Hurricane Alex and Tropical Storm Bonnie, created little threat to Gulf of Mexico oil and natural gas production. A third named storm, Tropical Storm Colin, was moving west at about 24 mph about 840 miles east-southeast of the Leeward Islands Tuesday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). Colin was expected to take a gradual turn toward the west-northwest over the next couple of days and could pass near the East Coast by early next week, NWS said.

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