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Prepare for winter weather: Q&A

What does the winter forecast have in store? We've created a Winter Weather Q&A to help you prepare for the season ahead:

Q: Will El Nino be nipping at our noses?

A: Not likely. A wavering El Nino, expected to have developed by now, makes this year's winter look less certain than in previous years. When El Nino is present, this warm ocean phase combines with high surface pressure of the western Pacific, shifting tropical rainfall and influencing storms and jet streams that influence winter conditions in the U.S. Currently, an El Nino watch remains in effect because there's still a window for it to emerge, according to forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce.

Q: Will we experience an Indian summer?

A: Quite possibly. Many states affected by extreme drought during the past year—from California stretching to Illinois—are unlikely to see much relief from dry conditions this winter. Among the official list of states and regions expected to see drier-than-average conditions, according to the NOAA, are the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, including Idaho, western Montana and portions of Wyoming, Utah and most of Nevada. Drier-than-average conditions are also predicted for the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and northern Missouri, along with eastern parts of North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and western Illinois.

Q: Will it be warmer or colder than usual this season?

A: Two states predicted to receive cooler-than-average temperatures this year are Hawaii and Florida (excluding the panhandle), projects NOAA. Warmer-than-average temperatures this winter for much of Texas, northward through the Central and Northern Plains and across the Southwest, the Northern Rockies, eastern Washington, Oregon and California, as well as the northern two-thirds of Alaska. As for the remaining parts of the country, wetter-than-average conditions are anticipated across the Gulf Coast states from the northern half of Florida to eastern Texas. All other regions are lumped into the "equal chance" forecast, which means they have an equal chance of falling into various temperature and precipitation scenarios.

Q: What's the Old Farmer's take?

A: The Old Farmer's Almanac, a legendary reference book containing weather forecasts, tide tables, planting charts, folklore and more, offers long-range winter weather predictions and snow conditions for regions throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Its 2012-2013 U.S. Weather Highlights show some disagreement with the NOAA's predictions. It maintains that areas suffering from drought during Summer 2012 will receive enough winter precipitation to bring improvement. Additionally, above-normal snowfall is predicted near the Great Salt Lake and in areas from El Paso to Detroit to Virginia Beach.

Q: Can we gain any insight from folklore?

A: While it's difficult to nail down an exact winter weather forecast, consulting popular folklore offers a little fun when all else fails. Rumor has it the number of stripes on a "wooly worm," or wooly bear caterpillar, can predict the severity of the upcoming winter's weather. If the middle brown section is wider, the winter will be milder; a narrow brown band is said to predict a harsh winter. Likewise, "Groundhog Day," celebrated annually on February 2, is said to predict a longer winter or an early spring. According to folklore, if he sees his shadow, it means there will be six more weeks of winter weather. If not, the snow will melt away and spring will arrive ahead of schedule.  

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