This year, we’re set up similar to last year with a La Nina pattern. But it doesn’t at all mean that we’ll have a similar winter.

We start with the water in the equatorial Pacific. Right now, the water is colder than normal, this is the La Nina phase. This cool air is changing the temperature of the air above the water. That then changes the air pressure patterns around the globe.

In a typical La Nina winter, we see colder than normal temperatures. La Nina doesn’t have any signals either way for higher or lower snowfall. When we do have above or below normal snowfall, it’s usually from other regional factors.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has put out its outlook for winter. Knowing the typical La Nina winter and based on trends, they’re going with a colder than normal winter for western North Dakota.

NOAA winter temperature outlook

As far as precipitation, there aren’t signals either way. Which doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll see normal snowfall.

NOAA winter precipitation outlook

You may wonder why would this winter be different than last winter if we’re under the La Nina influence again?. Megan Jones is the Climate Program Leader at the National Weather Service office in Bismarck,

“Every La Nina is going to look a little bit different. We can predict la Nina pretty far in advance but what you don’t know in advance is all these other different oscillations that can really only be predicted on a 3-4 week timescale… where we can really start to see what they’re gonna look like.”

So what Megan is referring to here are the different circulations around us (see below) that can impact our weather over the La Nina pattern. Yes, La Nina looks to be a big factor, but these other shorter-ranged circulations around the globe could impact our temperatures and snowfall here greatly. Most of these aren’t predicted months out like La Nina.

Climatologically speaking, we probably won’t see a winter like we did last year. Normal snowfall for us is anywhere from 44 to just over 50 inches. The bottom line is, while the temperatures look to be favored colder than normal, there aren’t signals either way right now on the snowfall.

On the drought front, it would be beneficial to have near-normal snowpack by the end of winter into early spring for a healthy runoff from the melt.