NOAA's 2013-14 Winter Outlook: Cold Northern Plains, Mild South

November 21, 2013

Winter 2013-2014 may be a cold one for some in the Midwest, but relatively mild in other parts of the nation, according to the winter outlook released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).


Dec-Feb NOAA Temperature Outlook

Dec-Feb NOAA Temperature Outlook

Dec-Feb NOAA Temperature Outlook

Dec-Feb NOAA Temperature Outlook

NOAA meteorologists are calling for colder-than-average temperatures across a small swath of the Northern Plains from northeast Montana into parts of the Dakotas and Minnesota.

Conversely, warmer-than-average temperatures this winter are expected from the Desert Southwest into the Southern Plains and Deep South.

This is roughly in agreement with the latest winter outlook from The Weather Channel issued on Nov. 19, calling for generally colder-than-average temperatures over the northern tier of states, from Washington state to northern New England, and near or warmer-than-average temperatures over roughly the southern two-thirds of the nation. The rest of the nation has equal chances of a cold or warm winter, according to NOAA.

"A strong Polar vortex should generally confine the cold air to northern latitudes," says Dr. Todd Crawford from Weather Services International (WSI), a part of The Weather Company. "This should allow much of the South to bask in a mild winter."

It's important to keep in mind these three-month outlooks do not preclude individual spells of colder or warmer weather over short time periods in areas forecasted to have a warmer or colder winter, respectively. This outlook is an overall trend of the three-month period from December through the end of February.

“It’s a challenge to produce a long-term winter forecast without the climate pattern of an El Niño or a La Niña in place out in the Pacific because those climate patterns often strongly influence winter temperature and precipitation here in the United States,” said Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. 

Wet or Dry?


Dec-Feb NOAA Precip Outlook

Dec-Feb NOAA Precip Outlook

Dec-Feb NOAA Precip Outlook

Dec-Feb NOAA Precip Outlook

As far as precipitation is concerned, a generally drier-than-average winter is expected by NOAA from the Desert Southwest into West Texas, as well as from the northern Gulf Coast to Florida and the Carolinas. Only a part of the northern Rockies, including Montana and northern Wyoming is expected to be wetter than average this winter. The rest of the nation has equal chances of a wet or dry winter, according to NOAA.

Parts of the Upper Midwest, Plains, Great Basin and Desert Southwest are in the grips of a drought. As of this writing, more than a quarter of California is categorized in extreme drought, the second most dire drought category, according to the latest Drought Monitor.

A winter of ample snowpack is needed, particularly in the Sierra, Wasatch, and southern Rockies to help replenish reservoir and river levels once spring snowmelt begins.

Another concern is winter's potential dearth of precipitation in the Southeast. Drought is likely to develop across parts of the Southeast, according to NOAA, following what had been a dry fall.

Again, a forecast of a dry winter doesn't preclude occasional storms producing significant rain or snow in any area.

“Without this strong seasonal influence (El Niño/La Niña), winter weather is often affected by short-term climate patterns, such as the Arctic oscillation, that are not predictable beyond a week or two," says Halpert. "So it’s important to pay attention to your local daily weather forecast throughout the winter.”

(MORE: Winter Storm Central | Latest Winter Weather Summary)

MORE: Coldest Places on Earth

An old man looks out on a Greenland glacier. (Flickr/Goran Ingman)

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