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Expect another winter of extreme weather, forecasters say

The Pacific Northwest will be colder and wetter than usual, while the South and California will be warmer and drier, says the US National Weather Service.


Snow is piled up in front of the West Wing of the White House in Washington on Feb. 6, caused by a blizzard that President Obama called "Snowmageddon." The National Weather Service predicts that major snowstorms this coming winter are more likely to happen in the western portion of the country.

Alex Brandon/AP

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A colder and wetter than average winter is in store for the Pacific Northwest, while the southern United States and California are expected to see a warmer and drier winter, government forecasters announced today (Oct. 21).

Overall, forecasters expect another winter of extremes ahead based on the strengthening La Niña, a climate phenomenon that is associated with cooler-than-normal water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.

This includes increased chances of storms and flooding in the northern plains and the Ohio and Tennessee valleys, while drought conditions continue in Hawaii.

La Niña has the opposite effect as its cousin El Niño, but both occur every two to five years and drive extreme weather around the globe. Last winter's El Niño contributed to record-breaking precipitation and flooding in some parts of the United States, while other areas experienced record heat and drought.

IN PICTURES: Snowmageddon

"La Niña is in place and will strengthen and persist through the winter months, giving us a better understanding of what to expect between December and February," said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center – a division of the National Weather Service.

Other factors influencing the winter weather to come are difficult to predict more than one to two weeks in advance, Halpert said. This is particularly true of the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, which are affected by the North Atlantic Oscillation, which consists of opposing variations of barometric pressure near Iceland and near the Azores.

"The northeast is always a tricky region for these forecasts," Halpert said during a press briefing. "It's often dominated by phenomena that's not predictable on the seasonal timescale."

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Regional highlights of the winter weather outlook include:

While last year saw some unusually large amounts of snow in the eastern United States, with the "Snowpocalypse" that buried Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York in large drifts of snow, any major snows this year would be more likely to happen in the western portion of the country, Halpert said.

He cautioned though that snow forecasts are dependent on winter storms, which are generally not predictable more than several days in advance.

IN PICTURES: Snowmageddon