El Niño Might Not Appear This Winter

Forecasters now give warmer, drier winter 58 percent chance of happening

By Molly Priddy

A month ago, forecasters believed the United States could be headed into a drier, warmer winter than last year due to an El Niño weather pattern.

That pattern, however, has changed.

Now, meteorologists and weather forecasters are back on the fence about the upcoming winter’s temperatures and precipitation, saying there is a 58 percent chance of an El Niño season, according to the Climate Prediction Center of the National Weather Service’s Nov. 17 report.

If El Niño does materialize, the report said, it would likely be weak.

Darren Van Cleave, a meteorologist with the NWS Missoula office, said without more definite indicators of an El Niño, it is difficult to predict what the next few months hold for Northwest Montana.

“The indicators have gotten softer and softer, to where our chance of having a true El Niño episode has dropped off and we’re starting to get back to a no-man’s land where it could go either way,” Van Cleave said.

That’s good news for skiers and snowboarders who still have a chance at avoiding a warmer, drier winter than last year, he said.

The cold snap that moved into Montana from the north earlier this month also looks to be on the way out, Van Cleave said, with warmer temperatures expected in the Flathead by the coming weekend.

“It’s a very tricky forecast when we get an arctic outbreak this time of year,” Van Cleave said. “The mountains are already warming up, but we’ve got this cold air that’s stuck in the valleys.”

When warmer air hits the mountains first, it’s called a winter temperature inversion, with the higher elevations seeing temperatures in the 30s and 40s while the valleys sit much colder.

“This cold air is very stable but it doesn’t want to go anywhere and it takes a stronger weather system to mix things up and essentially clean out the lower atmosphere,” Van Cleave said.

Such a system is likely on the way, he said, resulting in warmer valley temperatures starting on Friday until Sunday. Thursday, Nov. 20, could bring snow.

With such frigid temperatures sticking around in the valley, the expected warm up could make it feel like fall again, but Van Cleave said the average temperature for Kalispell in November is 37 degrees.

“It’s actually right about normal for this time of year,” he said.

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