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NOAA predicts a mild winter in the Pacific Northwest

The sun shines behind the Space Needle (Photo: Noah Lubin)

SEATTLE -- Fresh off news a warm water "Blob" has returned off parts of the West Coast, NOAA issued their annual winter outlook Thursday and the news is not exactly worthy of jumping for joy for those who like cold, snowy weather.

As anticipated, forecasters are giving the Pacific Northwest a fairly high confidence that the period encompassing December through February will be warmer than normal -- about a 54-58 percent chance for Seattle specifically will have an average temperature during the period warmer than 42.8 degrees, versus a roughly 30 percent chance of normal winter temperatures (41.2 to 42.8 degree average) and just a 10-15 percent chance of a cooler than normal winter (below 41.2 degree average).

In fact, a mild winter for the Northwest and Alaska is their most confident forecast as far as temperatures go:

It looks like a relatively mild winter is the odds-on favorite across much of the nation, with just the southeast getting an "equal chance" forecast... which essentially means there is no conclusive data to suggest a weighting of the odds one way or the other as far as their winter temperatures go.

In a bit of a surprise, while some parts of the northern tier off the U.S. are painted with some confidence of below-normal rainfall/snowfall, much of the Northwest is in that "equal chances" category -- equal odds of dry, wet, or normal rainfall. Much of the south is expecting a wet winter.

All of these forecasts are hallmarks of an anticipated El Niño winter -- when ocean waters in the central Pacific become warmer than normal. That sets off a chain reaction of weather in the tropics, which in turn can affect weather patterns across the rest of the globe. In most El Niño winters, the Pacific Northwest traditionally ends up with a mild and drier winter, while the soggy jet stream sinks south and brings a wet winter to the southern third of the U.S.

MORE | What do the Farmers Alamanacs say about this upcoming winter?

Forecasters continue to give a 70-75 percent chance of El Niño conditions forming in the next month or two. But unlike the past "Godzilla" record El Nino of 2015, this one looks weak to moderate in strength. That could explain the lack of confidence in predicting a drier winter around here with a weaker El Nino influence. Forecasters also suggest if El Niño does end up weak, other short term, large scale patterns may overtake at times and winter weather patterns may have more variance than usual stronger El Niño years.

"The Madden-Julian Oscillation can contribute to heavy precipitation events along the West Coast - which could play a large role in shaping the upcoming winter, especially if El Nino is weak, as forecasters predict," NOAA forecasters wrote in a press release announcing their forecast.

MORE | The Madden-Julian what?!?

But suffice to say, after three consecutive winters with near to slightly above normal mountain snowpacks, the odds are leaning toward not as much snow this year, with reduced odds (but not zero!) of lowland snow events. That said, not all El Niño winters are a bust in the snow department, and there have been instances of snow events even in Seattle during El Niño winters. Snow is just more of an underdog this year, both down in the lowlands and in the mountains.

Emergency Kittens to the Rescue

Those who have been in the region long enough to remember the very mild winter of 2014-15 when mountain snow was scarce and 50+ degree winter days were the norm know I started a tradition with each (depressing) forecast update, to provide skiers and snowboarders some "Emergency Kitten" therapy for solace.

It's admittedly a bit early for counseling just yet - maybe this El Niño flames out? - but maybe just after reading this story, we can all use a little:


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