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It'll be cold this weekend, but we could see milder temperatures and drier weather this winter

Oct 16, 2015

Yes, we're expecting freezing temperatures in much of Michigan and even snow in the Upper Peninsula this weekend, but call your bookmaker (or, rather, your weather futures trader) and plop down your bet on what might happen this winter.

The odds are increased for warmer-than-average temperatures and drier-than-normal conditions this winter in Michigan. That's according to the scientists at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center who say a stronger than normal El Niño event is expected to change the position of the Pacific jet stream.

From their post:

Drier-than-average conditions most likely for Hawaii, central and western Alaska, parts of the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies, and for areas near the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley ...

Above-average temperatures are favored across much of the West and the northern half of the contiguous United States.

But, as we all know, a climate prediction is not the same thing as a weather prediction.

“While temperature and precipitation impacts associated with El Niño are favored, El Niño is not the only player. Cold-air outbreaks and snow storms will likely occur at times this winter. However, the frequency, number and intensity of these events cannot be predicted on a seasonal timescale.”

The past two winters in Michigan have been bitterly cold with some pretty heavy snowfall in places. A big reason for these cold temperatures had to do with the "polar vortex," or the arctic jet stream dipping down and bringing cold air over Michigan. 

Jeff Masters, meteorologist over at the Weather Underground, writes how multiple factors – apart from the El Niño event – can influence how this winter will turn out.

We don’t yet know how all of these factors will line up for 2015-16, but I would cast my lot on a mixed-bag winter from the mid-Atlantic to New England, with periods of marked warmth punctuated by occasional sharp but transient cold blasts. Those could end up producing at least one big snowstorm if a negative NAO enters the picture.

Researchers at the Climate Prediction Center say this El Niño event is among the strongest on record.

So what exactly is an El Niño event? This explanation is pretty useful: