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National Climate Prediction Center forecasts warmer than usual winter for tristate region

Arti Kohli of Little Neck cleans snow from

Arti Kohli of Little Neck cleans snow from her car in Great Neck after a storm in February.   Credit: Newsday/William Perlman

The tristate area should be warmer than normal this winter, which also likely means less snow, national forecasters said on Thursday.

The weather phenomenon La Nina, in play for a second year in a row, is one major reason, the forecasters said. It pushes the jet stream North and helps steer storms away from the Eastern Seaboard.

"During La Nina, on average, the storm track is shifted a little further inland," Jon Gottschalck, chief of the Operational Prediction Branch at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, told reporters in a webinar.

What to know 

  • This winter should be warmer than normal in the tristate region, national forecasters said.
  • One major reason is the weather phenomenon La Nina, which is in play for a second year and helps steer storms away from the Eastern Seaboard.
  • There could be less snow but forecasters say there is still a chance for major storms in the region.

But he added: "It doesn’t rule out a major blizzard; we have had major blizzards in the Northeast during La Nina. That is more related to the variability in the pattern at that given time."

The latest predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spring in part from its increasing certainty, a high 87%, that La Nina weather conditions will last from December to February.

Officially, the chances that the tristate area will be warmer than usual are 40% to 50%, NOAA said in its new three-month outlook.

The same holds true for a broad swath of the nation, stretching diagonally from Maine to the southern tip of California. The South also should be warmer, the Northwest chillier.

The outlook is slightly different when it comes to precipitation: There are equal chances of above, normal or below levels for the tristate area, and much of the rest of the country, NOAA said in a statement.

Much of the western half of the country still will be gripped by "widespread severe to exceptional drought," its statement said, with only the Pacific Northwest getting more rain than usual.

La Nina also tends to increase the number of Atlantic Basin hurricanes in the June 1 to Nov. 30 season — though it may end early this year.

"We were still going strong into early October and it just sort of sputtered," said Jase Bernhardt, assistant professor of Geology, Environment and Sustainability at Hofstra University in Hempstead.

The two deadly late August and early September hurricanes, Henri and Ida, were followed by Hurricane Sam and Tropical Storm Victor, which both stayed out to sea.

The Atlantic Basin hurricane season tends to peak around Sept. 10, another reason Superstorm Sandy of 2012, which hit in mid-October, was such an outlier, he said.

A cooling ocean likely is driving the latest pause, Bernhardt explained, as hurricanes are fueled by warm, moisture-rich air.

This is the second lull this year; the first, in mid-July, was caused by a plume of Saharan dust that blew across the Atlantic, robbing possible storms of water vapors.

La Nina arises in the Pacific, when the equator's easterly trade winds strengthen, pushing the surface waters toward Asia. That allows the bottom, the coldest levels of the ocean, to rise to the surface off South America’s west coast.

Those cooler ocean waters tend to weaken wind shear, changes in its speed and direction, which if powerful, can erode and even blast hurricanes apart.

Because La Nina pushes the jet stream north, toward the West Coast, that flow of air becomes less effective at blocking hurricanes than when it blows directly from the east to the west, explained Bernhardt.

The jet stream’s altered route frees hurricanes to travel up from the Gulf Coast to the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes, instead of the East Coast, experts say.

In contrast, La Nina’s opposite, El Nino, can curb storms, as it drives the jet much farther south, into northern Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, according to NOAA.

El Nino arises when easterly trade winds weaken — or even change direction. So less of the ocean’s cooler bottom waters rise to the surface off western South America. And that warmer water can, NOAA says, "slosh" toward the eastern Pacific.

La Nina and El Nino occur thousands of miles away, but their effects are so wide-ranging because the Pacific is the world's biggest ocean, Bernhardt noted. Still, the impact is most pronounced farther west, the forecasters agreed.

And right now, with global warming raising the Pacific's average sea surface temperatures, no end is seen to the shifting between La Nina and El Nino.

Quoting a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, NOAA said that study found "it is virtually certain that the El Nino — Southern Oscillation (ENSO) will remain the dominant mode of interannual variability in a warmer world."

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