A map of expected winter precipitation in the United States. (NOAA )
The El Niño climate system has gone missing and that means much of the western portion of the United States can expect a milder and, in some places, a drier winter, meteorologists said Thursday.
In its winter outlook report, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also predicted a cooler than usual season for Hawaii and much of Florida.
But officials were shy about making long-term predictions for much the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions because of questions about another climate system known as the North Atlantic Oscillation.
"This is one of the most challenging outlooks we've produced in recent years because El Niño decided not to show up as expected," said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. "In fact, it stalled out last month, leaving neutral conditions in place in the tropical Pacific."
Separately, the Southern Oscillation refers to variations of temperature and air pressure in parts of the tropical Pacific Ocean. An El Niño event is a warm ocean phase, coupled with high surface pressure in the western Pacific. It generally shifts tropical rainfall and that influences storms and jet streams that lead to the West's weather.
An El Niño, which takes place about every five years, has yet to form this year, but officials said there is still a watch in effect, because there is some time for the weather pattern to emerge.
Given that caveat, forecasters said the odds indicate that the winter, from December through February, most likely will be warmer than average in much of Texas and northward through the central and northern Plains.
Warmth is also expected across the Southwest, the northern Rockies, eastern Washington, Oregon and California, as well as the northern two-thirds of Alaska.
Areas that have been hard hit by drought can expect little relief, NOAA predicted.
Drier than average conditions are predicted for Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest, Northern California as well as Idaho, western Montana and portions of Wyoming, Utah and most of Nevada. The upper Midwest, including Minnesota; Wisconsin; Iowa; northern Missouri, eastern parts of North and South Dakota; Nebraska; Kansas and western Illinois can also expect to be drier, NOAA said.
Wetter-than-average conditions are expected across the Gulf Coast states, from the northern half of Florida to eastern Texas.
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