Long-term warm trend expected to continue into winter in the Northland

Despite the coolest week since April and first fall frosts arriving right on time up north, the long-range forecast for the Northland's autumn and winter is warmer than normal.

February snow
Dennis Taklo of Duluth wields a shovel to remove snow from his driveway on Feb. 21. He took winter's late arrival in stride. (2012 file / News Tribune)

Despite the coolest week since April and first fall frosts arriving right on time up north, the long-range forecast for the Northland's autumn and winter is warmer than normal.

That's the word this week from the National Climate Prediction Center arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The center's latest three-month forecast calls for a better-than-average chance at a warmer-than-normal autumn in Minnesota leading into continued high probability of a warmer-than-normal early winter.

The pattern of warmth that has enveloped much of North America this past spring and summer should continue from October through December, said Huug van den Dool, forecaster for the Maryland-based center.

So far this has been the warmest year ever in the U.S. and in Minnesota, including the warmest summer in recorded history of Duluth. Duluth has seen 14 consecutive months of above-normal temperatures, and the past 12 months have been the warmest stretch since 1878.


The 90-day "temperature outlook indicates enhanced chances for above-normal temperatures from the southwest through the Great Palins to the Northeast," van den Dool said in his forecast.

Van den Dool said the coming winter may not be as warm as last -- which saw little snow for snowmobiling, a much shortened ice fishing season and record early ice-outs in the Northland. But he said winter 2012-13 should be above the 30-year running average.

The developing El Nino warming of the Pacific Ocean, if it intensifies at all, could bolster chances for a warm winter here. Records from the National Weather Service office in Duluth show that Duluth usually sees warmer-than-normal winters during strong El Nino winters. But officials now say this winter's El Nino may not be as strong as earlier expected.

Duluth needs only one more high temperature of 70 degrees

to set the all-time record for most 70s in one year. This year is tied with 1955 at 106 days with 70-degree highs.

The 90-day forecast doesn't show any tilt toward dry or wet for the Northland, meaning average precipitation is likely. But it appears drought conditions may worsen across parts of Minnesota. Even after a record wet June in some areas, parts of Minnesota are more than 6 inches behind normal for rainfall since July 1.

This week's update from the National Drought Monitor shows all of Minnesota well below normal for rainfall, with the northwest and southwest portions of the state in severe or extreme drought. The agency says drought probably will persist or get worse across nearly all of Minnesota, except the Arrowhead.

If the El Nino continues to develop, it is expected to bring more rain to southern and eastern states, easing drought in those areas. But the more southerly path for storms that come during most El Nino winters could mean less rain and snow in the western and northern sectors of the country. Because of that pattern, forecasters expect drought to continue through the end of the year for most areas west of the Mississippi River.


Forecasters this week also said they are closely watching the decline in Arctic sea ice, which dropped to its lowest level ever on Sunday. There is less than half the ice now than there was at this time of year in 1979, when satellite photos first were available to determine ice coverage. More open water and less ice means the dark ocean can absorb more heat, leading to higher air temperatures in the Arctic. That may affect the hemispheric climate patterns that bring us periods of cold every fall and winter. With a warmer Arctic Ocean, the entire pattern may be affected.

If you put much stock in the Old Farmer's Almanac, the 2012-13 edition also is calling for a mild and dry winter for all of the Northland, but cold for the eastern third of the nation.

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