WILLISTON, N.D. — It sure looks good on a map. The reality remains to be seen.
The Climate Prediction Center issued its monthly long-range temperature and precipitation outlooks Thursday. It contains very little change from earlier forecasts that the Northern Plains, and much of the United States, should experience warmer than usual temperatures December through February.
That doesn't mean winter weather won't have an impact on the region in the coming months, but it raises the probability that daytime high and low temperatures will be above average throughout the period.
A slowly developing El Nino is the main reason for the CPC's better than average temperature outlook for the region. Although all the requirements for an "official" El Nino have not yet been met, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contends formation of El Nino continues and will be influential to upcoming weather developments.
El Nino is an ocean-atmosphere climate interaction closely linked to warming sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. Historically, episodes of El Nino have meant warmer than usual temperatures and less than normal precipitation across the Northern Plains during the winter months.
The currently forming El Nino is not expected to develop into a strong weather influence but rather will be considered to be weak. In El Nino terms that likely translates into a three-month temperature difference in the days ahead of about one degree.
While that doesn't sound like a lot, it should make for a noticeable difference in the number of agreeable days this winter ahead and act as a sort of assurance that lengthy cold snaps will be limited in duration and intensity.
NOAA is standing by its previously issued Winter Outlook that favors warmer temperatures for much of the U.S. The outlook says "warmer-than-normal conditions" and "drier-than-average conditions" are likely in the Northern Plains.
The most significant El Nino effect on North Dakota occurred in the record warm winter of 2015-2016. It was the warmest winter ever recorded in the state. While this winter's El Nino won't reach that level it is expected to produce more days of favorable temperatures than a typical winter.