updated 10/6/2004 6:21:41 PM ET 2004-10-06T22:21:41

Rising heating oil and gas prices and the likelihood of colder-than-normal conditions spell trouble for residents in the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Gulf Coast states this winter, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday. But warmer-than-usual conditions are likely in Alaska and the West.

For the Northeast, the Midwest and parts of the Southwest, the forecast is too close to call as to whether the winter will be warm, cold or near normal, the agency said in its report on the outlook for December through February.

The outlook for rain or snowfall calls for wetter-than-average conditions in parts of California and the extreme Southwest and across the Southern United States from Texas to Florida. That could produce some improvement in drought conditions, although the ongoing dry spell is expected to continue in many areas.

Midwest expected to be drier than usual
Drier-than-average conditions are expected in the Midwest, the northern Plains and the Pacific Northwest.

Winter outlookThe forecast reflects a weak to moderate El Niño in the central equatorial Pacific Ocean, NOAA said. El Niño is a warming of Pacific waters that can alter the flow of the jet stream winds overhead and thus affect weather in many areas, including the United States. While NOAA forecasters expect El Niño to persist, they do not believe it will be as strong as the 1997-98 El Niño, which affected the climate worldwide.

“Our winter forecast factors in the effects of a weak El Niño that may strengthen into a moderate event during the winter months,” NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher said. “But we’ll keep our eye on other climate features in the Pacific and the North Atlantic that play an important role on the week-to-week variability in our winter weather. These patterns influence the position of the jet stream and dictate where and how winter storms will move.”

Jim Laver, director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said that during a weak El Niño, there was likely to be “enhanced storminess near the Aleutian Islands and in the Southeast U.S., and warmer, drier conditions over western North America.”

State-by-state breakdown
The temperature rundown:

Warmer than normal: Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Montana, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska, most of Idaho and Wyoming, northwest half of Iowa.

Cooler than normal: Central and east Texas, Louisiana, southern Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, eastern half of Tennessee, northern half of Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey.

Drier than normal: Hawaii, Washington, most of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, northern Wyoming, northern North Dakota, most of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, eastern Iowa, eastern Missouri, Ohio, northwest Pennsylvania and northern and western New York.

Wetter than normal: Southern California, southwest Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, southwest Arkansas, southern Mississippi, southern Alabama, southern Georgia, south coastal South Carolina and all of Florida.

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