Chattanooga Times Free Press

Drought are more likely than bliz­zards this win­ter

- BY SETH BOREN­STEIN

Don’t ex­pect much of a win­ter wal­lop this year, ex­cept for the pain of wors­en­ing drought, U. S. gov­ern­ment fore­cast­ers said Thurs­day.

Two- thirds of the United States should get a warmer than nor­mal win­ter, the Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion pre­dicted. Only Wash­ing­ton, north­ern Idaho, Mon­tana, the Dako­tas and north­west­ern Min­nesota, will get a colder than nor­mal win­ter, fore­cast­ers said.

The fore­cast for win­ter rain and snow splits the na­tion in three stripes. NOAA sees the en­tire south from south­ern Cal­i­for­nia to North Carolina get­ting a dry win­ter. Fore­cast­ers see wet­ter weather for the north­ern­most states: Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton to Michi­gan and dip­ping down to Illi­nois, In­di­ana, Ohio and other parts of the Ohio Val­ley. The rest of the na­tion will likely be closer to nor­mal, NOAA said.

For the al­ready dry South­west and ar­eas across the South, this could be a “big punch,” said NOAA drought ex­pert David Miskus. About 45% of the na­tion is in drought, the high­est level in more than seven years.

Mike Halpert, deputy di­rec­tor of NOAA’s Cli­mate Pre­dic­tion Cen­ter, said he doesn’t see much re­lief for cen­tral and south­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where wild­fires have been rag­ing.

What’s driv­ing the mostly warmer and drier win­ter fore­cast is La Nina, the cool­ing of parts of the cen­tral Pa­cific that al­ter weather pat­terns world­wide, Halpert said.

For the East, big snow­storms or bliz­zards aren’t usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with La Nina. That’s more likely with its warm­ing ocean coun­ter­part, El Nino, he said. But he added that ex­treme events are not some­thing me­te­o­rol­o­gists can see in sea­sonal fore­casts.

Halpert also said he doesn’t ex­pect the dreaded po­lar vor­tex to be much of a fac­tor this year, ex­cept maybe in the North­ern Plains and Great Lakes.

The vor­tex is the gi­gan­tic cir­cu­lar up­perair pat­tern that pens the cold close to the North Pole. When it weak­ens, the cold wan­ders away from the pole and brings bone- chill­ing weather to north­ern and eastern parts of the U.S.

While Halpert doesn’t see that hap­pen­ing much this win­ter, an ex­pert in the po­lar vor­tex does.

Ju­dah Co­hen, a win­ter weather spe­cial­ist for the pri­vate firm At­mo­spheric En­vi­ron­men­tal Re­search, sees a harsher win­ter for the Northeast than NOAA does. He bases much of his fore­cast­ing on what’s been hap­pen­ing in the Arc­tic and Siberian snow cover in Oc­to­ber. His re­search shows that the more snow on the ground in Siberia in Oc­to­ber, the harsher the win­ter in the eastern United States as the po­lar vor­tex weak­ens and wan­ders south.

Snow cover in Siberia was low in early Oc­to­ber, but it is catch­ing up fast and looks to be heav­ier than nor­mal by the end of the month, he said.

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