MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Fall is just starting, but we’re already looking ahead to winter.

Forecasters say it may not be as brutally cold as last year. But the NOAA outlook shows a 40 to 60 percent chance of warmer-than-average temperatures during December, January, and February.

So, by the end of the winter, chances are good you’ll look back and think “that wasn’t so cold.”

The mild winter is expected because of a strong El Nino, a weather pattern that brings warmer-than-average ocean temperatures to parts of the eastern Pacific.

El Nino years usually bring milder winters to the upper Midwest, and forecasters say this could be the strongest El Nino on record.

So does a warm winter mean less snow?

Not necessarily.

That’s because a strong El Nino pattern doesn’t have a clear-cut effect on precipitation.

Some El Nino years have brought us very little snow, and some have brought us a lot — like in 1983, when the Metrodome roof collapsed, twice.

Because of that, the official forecast is for “equal chances” of above, near, and below-normal precipitation across most of Minnesota, with a better-than-average chance of below-normal precipitation in northern Minnesota.

I talked with John Moore of the Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management office.

His research shows that more presidential disaster declarations are issued in Minnesota during El Nino years, including the Red River floods of 2009.

(credit: NOAA)

(credit: NOAA)

Mike Augustyniak

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