Winter 2015-2016 outlook: 5 things to expect

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NOAA Winter Outlook: Cooler and Wetter

By Weather.com

The strong El Niño's fingerprints are all over this winter's outlook.

This year's El Niño, which is forecast to become one of the strongest on record, is expected to influence weather and climate patterns this winter by impacting the position of the Pacific jet stream, NOAA forecasters say.

Here are five things to know about what's to come for December through February, according to NOAA.

(MORE: Winter Storm Names for 2015-2016 Unveiled)

1. The South Will Be Cooler Than Average, The North Warmer
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The southern tier of the nation is likely to be colder than average, particularly in Texas and the Gulf Coast states. Meanwhile, a large swath of the western and northern United States from California into the Pacific Northwest eastward into the Midwest, Great Lakes and Northeast is expected to be warmer than average.

2. The South Will Be Wetter Than Average

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NOAA also expects winter to trend wetter than average over much of the southern tier of the nation, from California into the Desert Southwest and into the southern and central Plains, as well as into much of the Deep South and Gulf Coast. The East Coast, from the Southeast into portions of the Mid-Atlantic and into southern New England, may also see a wetter than average winter. A drier-than-average winter is expected over parts of the Pacific Northwest, northern Rockies and into the far northern Plains and parts of the Great Lakes and Midwest.

3. El Nino Isn't the Only Player

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Other factors that often play a role in the winter weather include the Arctic Oscillation, which influences the number of arctic air masses that penetrate into the South and nor'easters on the East Coast, and the Madden-Julian Oscillation, which can impact the number of heavy rain storms in the Pacific Northwest.

4. California Could See Some Minor Drought Relief

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The U.S. Drought Outlook shows some improvement is likely in central and southern California by the end of January, but not drought removal. More relief is possible for California during February and March. Drought removal is likely across large parts of the Southwest, while improvement or removal is also likely in the southern Plains. However, drought is likely to persist in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies, with drought development likely in Hawaii, parts of the northern Plains and in the northern Great Lakes region.

5. We Don't Know When or Where It Could Get Ugly

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It is important to remember that this forecast is for the winter season as a whole and does not project when and where storms may occur. "A strong El Niño is in place and should exert a strong influence over our weather this winter," said Mike Halpert, deputy director, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. "While temperature and precipitation impacts associated with El Niño are favored, El Niño is not the only player. Cold-air outbreaks and snow storms will likely occur at times this winter. However, the frequency, number and intensity of these events cannot be predicted on a seasonal timescale."

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Winter 2015-2016 outlook: 5 things to expect

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