Looking into the winter forecast crystal ball

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winter forecast
16846224 - fir tree branch with snow

Mild or wild? Come January, will we be riding in sleds or still swinging our sand wedges?

It’s that time of year to tackle the impossible – predict what Mother Nature has in store for our area.

The early indications are … La Nina. In September, a La Nina watch was issued by the U.S. Climate Prediction Center, and is expected to be upgraded to an alert in November. So, what exactly is La Nina, and what does it mean for our area?

A La Nina is the cooling of equatorial waters in the Pacific Ocean – the opposite of the better-known El Nino.

According to forecasters with DTN, who provide OPPD’s weather reports, we can expect winter to stick around a little longer this year with colder than normal conditions from January to March.

Are we talking a winter like last year? When we had well-below average snowfall or a winter like 2016 when the Omaha area saw 27.4 inches of snowfall?

For the record, “normal” snowfall for the Omaha area is considered 26.4 inches.

DTN Chief Science Officer Jeff Johnson said along with colder conditions, it could also be windier than normal in the coming months. But, Johnson said, our precipitation levels will likely be below normal amounts, so there will be less of the white stuff falling from the sky.

He said DTN bases predictions on eight separate models from various research institutions and chosen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

NOAA issued its U.S. Winter Outlook in late October, and said there was a 55 to 65 percent chance of a La Nina emerging for the second straight year.

“If La Nina conditions develop, we predict it will be weak and potentially short-lived, but it could still shape the character of the upcoming winter,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “Typically, La Nina patterns during winter include above-average precipitation and colder-than-average temperatures along the northern tier of the U.S. and below-normal precipitation and drier conditions across the south.”

While wetter-than-average conditions are more likely across much of the northern U.S., Nebraska and parts of Iowa fall in an area of “equal chances” for both precipitation and temperatures.

“I won’t call it the Bermuda Triangle,” Halpert said of our area. “But it is in the middle of all of these areas … and makes it one of those areas we can’t say that much about.”

NOAA’s seasonal outlook does not include snow forecasts, as those are generally not predictable more than a week in advance because they depend on the strength and track of winter storms. Halpert said they are working toward including that information in future seasonal outlooks.

Jason Kuiper

About Jason Kuiper

Jason Kuiper joined OPPD as a communications specialist in 2015. He formerly worked as a staff writer and reporter at the Omaha World-Herald.

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