Differing greatly from the AccuWeather.com forecast from a few days ago, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) winter outlook for December through February calls for warmer-than-normal temperatures across most of the U.S.

“Even though the average temperature over the three-month winter season is forecast to be above normal in much of the country, there will still be bouts of winter weather with cold temperatures and frozen precipitation,” said NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher.

Specifically, NOAA’s 2005-2006 U.S. Winter Outlook calls for warmer-than-normal temperatures across much of the central and western United States, including Alaska and Hawaii. The Midwest, the Southern California coast and the East Coast have equal chances of warmer, cooler, or near-normal temperatures this winter.

On Monday, AccuWeather.com’s Joe Bastardi said the northeastern United States this winter is in for colder-than-normal temperatures, while west of the Continental Divide is expected to see milder-than-normal conditions (see Daily GPI, Oct. 12).

NOAA said it does not expect La Nina and El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) to play a role in this winter’s forecast. Without ENSO, forecasters look to other short-term climate factors, like the North Atlantic Oscillation, in determining the overall winter patterns. Under these conditions there tends to be more variability in winter weather patterns across the nation, especially in the Great Lakes region and the northeast U.S.

The precipitation outlook is just as uncertain, showing equal chances of above, near or below normal precipitation for much of the country. NOAA is calling for wetter-than-normal conditions across most of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and northeastern Texas. Drier-than-normal conditions are expected across the Southwest from Arizona to New Mexico.

As winter approaches, nearly 20% of the nation is in some level of drought compared to around 30% of the country this time last year as defined by the U.S. Drought Monitor. NOAA said that for the sixth year in a row, drought remains a concern for parts of the Northwest and northern Rockies. Wet or dry conditions during the winter typically have a significant impact on drought conditions. NOAA cautioned that it would take a number of significant winter snowstorms to end the drought in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies.

Looking to add more precision to seasonal outlooks, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center has formed a Climate Test Bed, which is a collaborative scientific effort among the operational, academic and research communities. The mission of the Climate Test Bed is to accelerate the transfer of atmospheric and oceanic research and development into operational climate forecasts, products and applications. NOAA said the Climate Test Bed is currently focused on maximizing the use of the agency’s Climate Forecast System model in combination with other climate forecast tools to improve U.S. seasonal precipitation and temperature outlooks.

NOAA said it will publish updates to the 2005-2006 U.S. Winter Outlook via the web Oct. 20, and Nov. 17. The meteorological winter begins Dec. 1, while the astronomical winter begins Dec. 21.

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