NORTH DAKOTA (KXNET) — As winter approaches, it’s the burning question on all of our minds. What will our winter look like this year?

We have signals from the atmosphere that can give us an idea and now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released its findings.

For only a third time in modern history, we are headed into a triple-dip La Nina year. Meaning, this is our third winter in a row in a La Nina pattern. The typical La Nina winter is usually colder than normal with no real signal for precipitation.

This winter, we are favored to see on average below-normal temperatures between the months of December and February. This doesn’t mean we can’t have warm spells. Just that in the long run, the trends are that we’ll average colder than normal.

While La Nina doesn’t typically have a signal for precipitation, we are favored this year for higher than normal precip in the west.

You may be thinking if we’re headed into a third La Nina winter, why weren’t the last two winters similar? That’s because no two La Nina winters are the same. These maps of the US (below) show how much colder and warmer we were during our past La Nina years. You can see that none of them are identical.

Courtesy of NOAA

But there are similarities in how a La Nina winter begins. Chauncy Schultz is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“Even though every La Nina winter really has its own trademark and they’re all a little different, one signal that we do see is that an overall mild start to the winter is very consistent across La Ninas. In the last two winters, even though the winters ended differently, they began very similarly. We have very mild weather really into December and then we saw a shift,” said Schultz.

This means that if we head into December mild and warm, don’t let that be a predictor of how the rest of the winter will go.

But something else we have to factor in is the unknowns in the months to come. Other circulations around the world can have an impact on us here in North Dakota — especially as the La Nina pattern weakens as it’s expected to in the second half of winter.

Schultz added, ” As that La Nina really weakens, those other influences — which are usually shorter-term drivers of the weather, on time scales of one to two months rather than six to 12 months like we see with La Nina, they have a better opportunity to really control the weather pattern.”

So the takeaway is, we have signals for a colder-than-normal winter and maybe slightly above-normal snowfall. Our average snowfall is around 50-inches.