La Nina to build, dictate U.S. winter weather: NOAA

Thu Oct 21, 2010 3:55pm EDT
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By Christopher Doering

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A strengthening La Nina weather phenomenon will grip the United States this winter, bringing warmer, drier weather across the South and cooler, moist conditions in the far northern and western parts of the country, government forecasters said on Thursday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said a "moderate to strong" La Nina looks to become one of the strongest on record throughout the winter -- making it the most dominant factor influencing weather across the country.

"I do believe that really the story of this winter is likely to be the dry conditions across the South," said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

"It's something we've seen very consistently with many of these La Ninas in the past," he told reporters, adding the dry weather could set the stage for drought or near drought-like conditions early next year.

The weather anomaly could be troublesome for the South, where the potential of drought conditions developing would threaten U.S. crops as farmers sow winter wheat and get fields ready for 2011 spring plantings of grains and cotton.

"There would be a concern for winter wheat in the South and Southeast, if the dry weather remains into the spring growing season. We could lose bushels, if that happens," said Shawn McCambridge, an analyst for Prudential Bache Commodities.

The winter outlook, covering December through February, was uncertain for the Northeast, the world's largest heating oil market, and the Midwest, where residents depend mostly on natural gas for home heating.

NOAA said the Central, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions each have an equal chance of temperatures and precipitation being above, near or below normal this winter, but the agency cautioned its forecast could change.   Continued...