A big chunk of the United States is likely in for another weirdly warm winter. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just released its winter-weather outlook, and right now they’re calling for warmer-than-normal temperatures along the East Coast and the southern two-thirds of the country. The northwest corner of the U.S. could see some colder-than-average temperatures, but on the whole, the U.S. might be breaking a few heat records again.
This is maybe good news if you prefer windbreakers in January — maybe a little less so if you’re concerned about the fate of the planet. The 2015–2016 winter was the warmest on record in the contiguous States. And February was historically balmy in large swaths of the country. While it’s too early to tell how this season will shape up for the record books, it’s not a comforting trend. Natural variations always factor in, of course, but the effects of climate change can’t be ignored. “It does, undoubtedly, play a role,” Mike Halpert, of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, told reporters. “The increase in CO2 factors into our model forecast.” But, he added, that the odds of a three-peat for top-ten warmest winters is “reduced, not eliminated.”
When it comes to snow, rain, or wintry mixes, the East Coast looks like it will have about average precipitation, with wetter conditions stretching from the Rookies to the Ohio Valley, and drier conditions dominating the southern U.S. That forecast — wetter north, drier south — is consistent with La Niña patterns, which NOAA forecasters give a 55 to 65 percent chance of developing before winter starts. (Surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean have to be cooler-than-average for three straight months.) If La Niña develops, forecasters predict it to be “weak and potentially short-lived.” And no matter what the winter outlook says now, the stray snowpocalypse or polar vortex can never be ruled out.