The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a mixed winter forecast last week with equal chances of above or below normal temperatures for several key natural gas market areas, including the Northeast, New England, the Midwest, the Great Lakes, the bulk of the Midcontinent and the southern Rockies.

NOAA expects below normal temperatures over the Mid Atlantic, Southeast and Gulf Coast regions, and above normal temperatures in the Pacific Northwest, Pacific Coast, Northern Rockies and part of the upper Midwest.

The precipitation outlook calls for wetter-than-average conditions in parts of California, the extreme Southwest and across the Southern U.S. from Texas to Florida. Drier-than-average conditions are expected in the Midwest, northern Plains and Pacific Northwest. The winter outlook indicates some improvement in drought conditions in the West, but long-term drought is expected to persist through the winter in many areas.

“The winter outlook reflects a blend of impacts associated with weak-to-moderate El Nino events in the central equatorial Pacific Ocean and is based on the likelihood that these conditions will persist through early 2005,” NOAA said. El Nino influences the winter weather patterns by affecting the jet stream and the track storms take across the eastern Pacific and North America. NOAA scientists do not expect this El Nino to reach the strength of the1997-1998 El Nino event.

“Our winter forecast factors in the effects of a weak El Nino that may strengthen into a moderate event during the winter months,” said NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher. “But we’ll keep our eye on other climate features in the Pacific and the North Atlantic that play an important role on the week-to-week variability in our winter weather. These patterns influence the position of the jet stream and dictate where and how winter storms will move.”

During weak to moderate El Nino events, shifts in the jet stream change the patterns of storminess over the eastern North Pacific and North America. “In particular, NOAA anticipates enhanced storminess near the Aleutian Islands and in the Southeast U.S., and warmer, drier conditions over western North America,” said Jim Laver, director of NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

The North Atlantic Oscillation plays an important role in modulating the winter weather over the eastern half of the U.S. It influences the position of the jet stream over the North Atlantic, affecting winter weather over the Northeast. “To a large extent, our forecast of equal chances of above or below normal temperatures and precipitation over the northeastern U.S. is based on the NAO, which is only confidently predicted one to two weeks in advance,” said Ed O’Lenic, meteorologist at the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

NOAA said this winter forecast for the first time includes its new Climate Forecast System, a coupled ocean-atmosphere model that complements other NOAA models and gives increased confidence of probable climate events before they happen. “NOAA’s progress in climate forecasting is based on ongoing research and collaboration with our partners, advancements in our understanding of the global climate system, upgrades to the weather and climate supercomputer, and improvements in the state-of-the-art atmospheric and oceanic modeling applications,” said Louis W. Uccellini, director of the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Prediction.

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