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Winter in Nebraska will be ‘unpredictable,’ experts say


Winter’s just around the corner, and if anything is certain about a Nebraska winter, it’s that nothing is certain.

The upcoming winter will be no different, forecasters say.

The national Climate Prediction Center on Thursday issued its official winter outlook. It said just about anything is possible this winter across large parts of the country, including the central United States.

“We expect high variability this winter,” said Jon Gottschalck, chief of the operational prediction branch at the Climate Prediction Center. The center is a division of the National Weather Service.

For the third winter in a row, a La Niña weather pattern is expected to dominate climatic conditions in much of North America.

And while that brings some certainty to some parts of the U.S., it doesn’t for this part of the country, said Van DeWald, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Valley.

The last two La Niña winters are evidence of that, he said.

Two winters ago, DeWald said, Omaha saw its 14th-snowiest winter on record and received 20.9 inches more snow than average.

This past winter, he said, Omaha experienced its third-least-snowy winter, with snowfall falling 16.3 inches below average.

Based on historical trends, La Niña can bring a harsh end to winter in this part of the country, he said. But even that’s not certain.

The crippling polar vortex that sent energy bills skyrocketing during February 2021 and contributed to rolling blackouts occurred in the context of a La Niña winter. That was Nebraska’s fourth-coldest winter on record. But a year later, a second La Niña February brought near-normal temperatures to the state.

“La Niña is unpredictable for us,” DeWald said. That’s because this part of the country is vulnerable to potent climatic patterns that can overwhelm the influence of La Niña.

Other parts of the country have more predictable La Niña winters. Some places in the northern U.S. are forecast to see a colder and wetter-than-normal winter, according to the Climate Prediction Center, while parts of the southern U.S. are likely to see warmer and drier-than-normal weather. 

A bit of a roller-coaster is possible in this area as those two divergent weather patterns jostle for dominance.

Mike Moritz, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Hastings, said trends suggest wide swings in temperature, including more frequent brief cold spells followed by warmer-than-normal conditions.

The winter outlook offers little good news in terms of drought and fire risks.

The climate center expects drought to persist across Nebraska and take hold in the sliver of south-central Nebraska that isn’t classified as in drought. Nebraska and large swaths of the country remain at risk of wildfires until snow arrives and provides a protective blanket. 

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