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Nov 16, 2012 2:18 PM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX News

No El Nino: Average winter, forecasting difficulty

MISSOULA - Without an "El Nino" weather pattern developing for this winter, the National Weather Service is expecting more of an average winter for Montana. But, forecasters say it also means it will be difficult to predict long-term weather patterns.

Scientists had posted an "El Nino" watch in late summer, with Pacific ocean temperatures generating a very dry winter here in the Northwest, but the watch was dropped last week.

"And it just hasn't panned out. It looks like we're going to stay neutral as far as the sea surface temperatures goes. The problem with that, that makes it tough to get any real real strong signatures for long term forecasts," Marty Whitmore with the National Weather Service explained.

"And we've had three winters, the one that was an El Nino winter and two that were La Nina winters that we had fairly strong signatures of what we're going to see. This year we don't," he added.

That means the long-range picture is a little less clear than it has been the past 3-winters. However, there's optimism about how the winter season is getting underway.

After seeing river and stream levels drop to near-record lows in September, major storm events over the past aix weeks have helped to put fresh snow at the higher elevations, restoring soil moisture content and river flows.

That's in keeping with an average winter outlook. But without the definite ocean temperature patterns no one is as certain as to what that might mean by next summer.

"So that's kind of set the stage for helping us out a little bit here. I mean we've got the good moisture in the mountains now, for most of Western Montana and that's going to help our soils as we go into this coming winter," Ray Nickless with the NWS said.

"And now if we can just stay in somewhat of a wet pattern through the winter, it doesn't have to be overwhelming. But that will help us out next spring. Now it could reverse at any minute though. We don't have as good a handle on what this upcoming winter is going to be like so we could be in a wet pattern now and then change and be drier," he concluded.

The advice from the National Weather Service is to be prepared for an average winter, but don't be surprised if we see a variety of conditions in the weeks to come.

Hear more about the winter outlook, and a final analysis of the summer's record-breaking drought on this Sunday's "Face the State" program.

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