Another mild winter could be on tap for much of Nebraska and Iowa.
The U.S. Climate Prediction Center says the odds slightly favor warmer-than-average temperatures in Nebraska and western Iowa, and drier-than-average conditions from eastern Nebraska through Iowa. The forecast covers December through February.
Areas that experienced severe drought this year — like much of Nebraska and Iowa — are unlikely to see much relief from drought conditions this winter, according to the center.
Just don't bet the rent money on this forecast.
It's been one of the toughest winters in recent years to predict, said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the climate center. That's because the chief weather pattern that forecasters use to calculate winter hasn't behaved normally.
“This is one of the most challenging outlooks we've produced in recent years because El Niño decided not to show up as expected,” Halpert said.
Forecasters draw heavily on the temperature of the central Pacific Ocean to generate a winter forecast.
If water temperatures are significantly warmer than normal, an El Niño winter is forecast, potentially bringing wet weather across the southern United States and drier-than-normal weather across much of the North.
If the ocean waters are significantly cooler, a La Niña winter is expected.
Other weather patterns affect winter, but they don't have the long-term reliability of Pacific Ocean temperatures.
Count Nebraska state climatologist Al Dutcher among the dissenters when it comes to a mild winter.
“I'm not buying that,” said Dutcher, who sees potential for “some pretty cold air” in the first half of winter and improving chances for rain and snow.
That's not to say substantial drought relief is on the way, he added. The simple good news is that this fall is starting out wetter than last year, and that could set the table for more moisture down the road.
Harry Hillaker, state climatologist for Iowa, said the lack of an El Niño or La Niña signal is unusual.
By now, one or the other is usually entrenched enough for forecasts to be made.
“It's pretty rare,” he said. “Basically, there's not much to go on. It's anybody's guess.”