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Winter Forecast: Drought to Plague Southern Plains

October 21, 2011

By Doyle Rice, USA TODAY

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The devastating, multibillion-dollar drought across the southern Plains is expected to continue through the rest of the winter, the federal Climate Prediction Center said in its winter forecast out Thursday.

Elsewhere, "the Pacific Northwest through the Great Lakes area is likely to be both colder and wetter than average," said Michael Halpert, deputy director of the climate center in Camp Springs, Md.

The primary driver for the winter weather is La-Nina, a periodic cooling of tropical Pacific Ocean waters, Halpert said.

La Nia, which returned in August, will gradually strengthen and should continue through the winter.

As is typical during a La-Nina winter, precipitation is most likely to be below average along the southern tier of the nation -- all the way from Southern California to Florida, Halpert said.

The center`s forecast covers the months of December, January and February -- meteorological winter.

Because of La-Nina`s effects, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and sections of the surrounding states are unlikely to get enough rain or snow to alleviate the ongoing drought, the climate center said.

Texas, the epicenter of the drought, experienced its driest 12-month period on record from October 2010 through September 2011, said David Brown, director of Southern Regional Climate Services for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Brown said the drought has cost $5billion in economic losses in Texas and $1.5billion in Oklahoma.

As of Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor, a federal website that keeps track of drought conditions across the country, shows that 91% of Texas remains in extreme or exceptional drought, the worst levels.

Despite the effects of La-Nina, the Arctic Oscillation, known as the "wild card" of weather, will be in play for most of the Northeast, Midwest and East Coast this winter.

The oscillation phenomenon is marked by shifts in high and low atmospheric pressure that cause the position of the polar jet stream to fluctuate.

However, it can be predicted only about one to two weeks ahead of time.

"Big snows in the East are dependent on the Arctic Oscillation," Halpert said.

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Copyright 2011 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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Story image: In this photo, Eddie Ray Roberts, superintendent of the city`s waste and water department, is shown walking on the dried bed of Lake E.V. Spence in Robert Lee, Texas. AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File.

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