Just a little over a week after its first crack at forecasting the 2007/2008 U.S. winter (December 2007 through February 2008), the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said Thursday that its latest model runs confirm its earlier prediction for above-average temperatures over most of the country and a continuation of drier-than-average conditions across much of the Southwest and Southeast.

If milder temperatures for a majority of the country are realized, natural gas supply levels and electricity grid loads likely won’t come under pressure, keeping prices in check. However, with NOAA also forecasting a La Nina event, when ocean surface temperatures cool off the western coast of South America, conditions this winter could be hard to nail down (see Daily GPI, Oct. 16).

“The prediction for a warmer than normal winter is still on course,” said Michael Halpert, head of forecast operations and acting deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC). “Our big concern continues to be the persistence of drought across large parts of the country’s southern tier. Nearly half of the Southeast is in extreme drought and water supplies have reached critical levels in some cities.”

For the country as a whole, NOAA’s updated heating degree day forecast for December through February projects a 3.4% warmer winter than the 30-year normal, but a 0.7% cooler winter than last year. The entire eastern and central United States is expected to record warmer than normal conditions with the south central region recording the warmest temperatures over normal. NOAA said Southern California, New Mexico and Nevada are also expected to record warmer than normal temperatures, while Northern California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and parts of Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota are expected to have an equal chance of being normal or warmer or colder than normal.

“Even though December, January and February are likely to be milder than average for much of the country, people should still expect some typical winter weather this season,” said Halpert.

Addressing the drought, NOAA said that despite some recent short-term relief over the Southeast and Tennessee Valley, and the potential for additional short-term relief during the next 10 days, meteorologists predict that the drought will continue through the winter for many areas in the Southeast. Although forecasters cannot rule out much-needed rain in any location in coming months, the latest U.S. drought outlook shows reduced chances for significant relief along the Gulf and Southeast coasts, as the odds for soaking tropical rains diminish as the Atlantic hurricane season winds down.

“Drought is by no means limited to the Southeast, as severe drought expanded northward all the way to Delaware this month. The Washington, DC, area is experiencing one of the most notable dry spells on record, with Oct. 17 the 33rd consecutive day without measurable rain at Reagan National Airport,” said Douglas LeComte, drought specialist at CPC.

Additionally, NOAA meteorologists said the onset of La Nina means that drought will likely persist in the Mid-Atlantic and the Southwest from Southern California into Arizona. In contrast, the drought forecast shows continued improvement for the Northeast and Great Lakes region, as well as the Northwest and northern Rockies.

NOAA will update its 2007-08 U.S. winter outlook for the final time this season on Nov. 15.

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