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El Nino still forecasted for ND meaning more favorable winter

BISMARCK -- It is beginning to look more and more like the winter ahead will be a favorable one. The latest El Nino outlook issued by the Climate Prediction Center says all indicators are that El Nino continues to form, much as it has doing been for several months.

El Nino is a warming of Pacific Ocean waters that influences winter weather. For North Dakota that generally means an increased possibility of warmer than usual wintertime temperatures and less than normal snowfall. However, says Ken Simosko, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Bismarck, this El Nino isn't expected to a strong one.

"Don't get fooled by this. We are going to have cold temperatures, just maybe less frequent cold intrusions than in the past," said Simosko. "What we are saying is, average high and low temperatures for a 90-day period from December through February, we should average one to three degrees above normal."

The latest outlook rates the chance of El Nino at 70 to 75 percent.

"It should rise up pretty rapidly here," said Simosko. "Odds favor temps that will be at or above average. There are still some known unknowns."

While even a week El Nino episode will likely be noticed by long-time North Dakotans, there are some factors that could spoil the party. One major influence is Arctic oscillation that has the potential to dump extremely cold air on North Dakota.

"Several of those will trump El Nino," cautioned Simosko. "We can't really predict Arctic oscillation more than about 10 to 14 days out, so we won't know until December, January or February."

The winter of 2015-2016 was characterized by a very strong El Nino with temperatures averaging several degrees above normal and very little snowfall. That won't be repeated this winter, at least not to that extent. Still, says Simosko, odds favor more warm days than cold days and less precipitation than usual.

"One thing that has stood out, in seven out of 10 El Ninos, we have received below normal snowfall," said Simosko.

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