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Forecasts cloudy for coming winter

(MCT) — BLOOMINGTON — Last winter’s temperatures were mild and less than 6 inches of snow fell during December, January and February — the three months considered to be “core” winter.

In 2010-11, it was the exact opposite: Central Illinois was blanketed with 26 inches of snow during the same three months and temperatures were largely below normal.

What will happen this year remains a big question.

“We’re not getting as much guidance this year,” said Jim Angel, a climatologist with the Illinois Water Survey in Champaign. “It’s up in the air how it will play out.”

Usually, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gives some indication of the trend through its annual mid-October “U.S. Winter Outlook” report. But this year’s report is fairly inconclusive.

“This is one of the most challenging outlooks we’ve produced in recent years because El Nino (a periodic warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean that affects wind patterns) decided not to show up as expected,” Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center said in this year’s report. “In fact, it stalled out last month, leaving neutral conditions in place in the tropical Pacific.”

About the only thing NOAA could suggest was that the western half of the United States and central and northern Alaska could experience a warmer-than-average winter; Florida might be colder than average; and the upper Midwest (including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and northern Missouri) may have drier-than-average conditions.

Western Illinois also may be in for continuing drier-than-average conditions, but as far as the midsection of the state goes there’s an equal chance of above normal, below normal or normal conditions.

Typically a National Weather Service reporting station in north Normal sees about 5 inches of snow in December, 7 inches in January and 5 inches in January. Average temperatures typically range between 29.6 degrees and 32.4 degrees.

Angel said the tone of winter 2012-13 likely will be set in December.

“To get a snowy winter in Illinois, it usually starts early and comes often,” he said.

That was the case in December 2010 when the Twin Cities got 4 inches of snow Dec. 17. Another 4 inches dropped on Dec. 21. January that winter had five snow events totaling another 5.2 inches and then a whopping 13.5 inches fell on Feb. 3.

While some people may be dreading the thought of a lot of snow, the moisture is needed to help wash away the drought conditions that gripped virtually the entire state this summer.

“We’re making progress,” Angel said. “The central part of the state made pretty good progress on soil moisture but the ponds, rivers and streams are awfully low.”

The statewide average precipitation for January through October was 27.1 inches, nearly 5.8 inches below average and the 15th driest for that time period. It also was the second warmest January through October with a statewide average temperature of 58.9 degrees, 3.4 degrees above normal.

So far this year, the National Weather Service reporting station in Normal has received 27.9 inches of precipitation. Between 1981 and 2010, that same site reported an average total of more than 39 inches of precipitation for 12 months.

The north Normal site picked up about a half inch of rain from Sunday’s storm. The rest of the week is expected to stay dry. It also will remain cool until Thursday when the high is expected to be about 51 degrees — a trend that is expected to continue through the weekend.

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