The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center released its 2015-2016 winter outlook today, which includes the months of December, January and February. The strong El Nino in place is expected to heavily influence winter weather patterns across the U.S.


El Nino occurs when waters in the eastern equatorial Pacific become warmer than normal, which typically causes changes to weather patterns worldwide. This year’s El Nino is expected to continue strengthening and is forecast to surpass the 1997-1998 record El Nino.


According to the winter outlook, a mild winter is likely ahead for Alaska. The state has a 40-60 percent chance of seeing warmer-than-normal temperatures. As for precipitation, Interior and Western Alaska have a 33-40 percent chance of experiencing a drier-than-normal winter, while Southcentral and Southeast Alaska have a 33-40 percent chance of a wetter-than-normal winter. The Arctic Coast, the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands have equal chances of seeing a drier or wetter winter.


It’s important to note that the winter outlook focuses on the overall winter climate. Climate is a measure of how the atmosphere behaves over a period of time, while weather is a measure of how the atmosphere is behaving in the present or in the near future. This means that the outlook does not account for typical winter weather conditions, like extreme cold or snowfall. Cold temperatures and snowfall occur with rapidly evolving weather systems, which can happen even with a mild winter in place. Forecasters cannot predict how much snow Alaska will receive this winter or exactly how much temperatures will drop.