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Bundle up: Meteorological signs pointing to colder-than-average winter

Blame the missing sunspots, or the curious churnings of the Pacific Ocean, or the relentless law of averages.

The meteorological signs all seem to point to a colder-than-average winter.

Even the heavy snow dumped by the fierce weekend blizzard, by laying down a terrestrial icebox, will reinforce the chilly outlook.

Start with the sunspots - more precisely, the lack of sunspots, considered by some a portent of colder weather.

So far, the sun has been spotless at least 242 days this year, WDAY Meteorologist Daryl Ritchison said Monday.

Combined with last year, the sun has been spotless 485 days. The last time the sun's complexion was that clear was in the early 1910s, a period that saw plenty of cold weather, he said.

Patterns in the Pacific Ocean, which had favored the region with warmer weather throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s, have turned toward the chilly side.

"The Pacific Ocean about three years ago has flipped back to its cold phase," Ritchison said.

Those indicators provide cold comfort, in his view.

"There's a number of factors that would point to a colder-than-average winter," Ritchison said. "The coldest ever? No."

Officially, the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center concluded there is an equal chance for above- or below-normal temperatures and precipitation this winter - in other words, the signals are too close to call.

The National Weather Service in Grand Forks, N.D., essentially agrees. The seasonal outlook it issued also sees "normally cold" temperatures - but with a bias toward cooler than normal.

The weather service predicts two noteworthy cold waves, the first in early to mid-December, which now has its icy grip on the region.

A stronger cold snap is expected from late January to mid-February. Snowfall? Probably about normal, or 30 inches to 50 inches for the season.

Adnan Akyuz, North Dakota's state climatologist, said this is a hard winter to predict, but he believes last year's strong La Niña patterns in the Pacific, which correlate with colder and wetter weather in this region, linger.

Therefore, he agrees with other forecasters who see a chilly future, especially for January.

"The majority of the local research points to a colder winter," Akyuz said.

Akyuz predicted above-normal snowfall for eastern North Dakota, but expects the dry spell in western North Dakota to continue. The Red River Valley, with the ground saturated from the fall rains, faces flooding this spring.

Predicting the weather is notoriously difficult, especially in the northern Great Plains and Red River Valley. So anything can happen, Ritchison said.

"If it finishes above normal, I'll be thrilled," he added.

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