Warmer-than-normal winter predicted

Thursday, October 18, 2007 | 8:28 p.m. CDT; updated 7:06 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

COLUMBIA — Since the state began tracking weather data more than 110 years ago, five of Missouri’s 10 warmest winters have occurred since 1991.

This year’s winter temperatures are predicted to be above-average once again, according to a report released earlier this month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and that could translate into lower heating bills.

November is also expected to have above average temperatures, a report released Thursday from the National Weather Services stated.

“Right now, we’re experiencing a La Niña event, which has strengthened over the past month and is expected to continue over the next several months,” said Pat Guinan, a climatologist with MU Extension’s Commercial Agriculture Program. “When a La Niña persists over the winter months, the typical trend is for above-average temperatures.”

NOAA defines La Niña as cooler than normal sea-surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean that impact global weather patterns. La Niña, along with the trends of past winters, factor in determining this winter’s above-average temperatures. Guinan said that over the past 20 winters, Missouri has seen extremely mild weather conditions. Since 1989, there have been only five winters that were colder than normal.

Although there’s really no way to determine exactly how much warmer this winter will be, most of Missouri has a greater than 50 percent chance for warmer-than-normal temperatures. Columbia falls within that range.

“In between the above-average temperature spells, winter weather can still be expected,” said Jim Kramper, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in St. Louis. “A few snowstorms can pop in, despite the milder winter, and people should be prepared for some winter weather.”

A warmer winter could also mean lower heating prices, which are expected to spike in the upcoming months. According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Energy Center, energy price increases will be influenced by local weather conditions, market size and the size and energy efficiency of individual homes.

“With above-average winter temperatures, people could have less heating needs, but that will vary by region,” Kramper said. “Obviously, if the outlook holds true, we’d expect energy usage to heat homes to decrease also.”

La Niña conditions recur every few years and are cyclical with El Niño episodes.

There was a weak El Niño episode from 2005 through 2006. The episode is now in the La Niña stage and is expected to last into 2008, Kramper said.

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