WASHINGTON (AP) - The weather forecast for this winter is mostly a shrug of the shoulders.
For most of the nation, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration predicts equal chances for unusual warmth, cold, snow, rain and even average weather. That's because of an absence of certain global weather factors, like El Nino - a warming of the central Pacific that affects temperatures and rainfall worldwide
NOAA's Mike Halpert said Thursday that the winter isn't likely to be too memorable or unusual, except in the South where drought should deepen in the southwest and develop in the southeast.
Forecasters expect unusual warmth from Arizona to Alabama and also in New England. The extreme U.S. north, around the Dakotas, is likely to be colder than normal.
Just because forecasters are predicting equal chances for nearly everything, that doesn't mean it has to be a normal year, said Halpert, acting director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Md. It just means the large-scale climate factors that forecasters use, such as El Nino, aren't giving them strong signals or patterns, he said.
But extremes tend to happen with El Ninos, so Halpert added, "we're probably more likely to see something more benign" for the winter.
And the winter weather is likely to change more from week to week, rather than persisting heavy cold and snowy or mild for weeks on end, Halpert said.
NOAA's forecast doesn't look for individual blizzards or events, just averages. So a winter that doesn't look extreme doesn't mean it will be free of snowstorms, Halpert said. He said residents in snow-prone areas shouldn't put away their snow shovels.
And in places like the mid-Atlantic, where the national's capital has had less than 5 inches of snow for two years, the odds are against the snow-drought continuing for a third year, Halpert said.
Private weather forecast companies also cited mixed and lack of signals in their forecasts, which ranged from warm to cold.
The Weather Channel sees a winter that's warmer than normal for the coastal Northeast and mid-Atlantic, the South, the West and much of the lower Midwest. The country's northernmost states should be a bit cooler than normal, the company forecasts
Accuweather sees a late start to winter in the East, near record warmth in the South, but plenty of snow and extreme cold in the North, upper Midwest, Northwest and the Rockies. Weather Bell Analytics sees a colder and snowier winter for much of the country, centered around the nation's heartland.
NOAA's winter forecast: http://1.usa.gov/IisDDt