Washington Winter is back with a vengeance this year.
After three mild winters, 2000-2001 is going to be cold, really cold, for much of the nation, the National Weather Service predicted Tuesday in its regular seasonal forecast.
"It's just going to be colder flat out colder," warned Ants Leetmaa, director of the weather service's Climate Prediction Center. "It could be one of the coolest (winters) of the last decade. There's a 50 percent chance that there's nobody in the country that's going to feel warm relative to at least the last three years and probably the last 10 years."
Across a wide swath from the Dakotas down to northern Missouri and east to upstate New York, Leetmaa expects a winter averaging 8 degrees colder than the past three years. The rest of the nation will be 1 to 6 degrees cooler, he said.
Kansas and Missouri can expect temperatures near their long-term normal for winter, but that's still 6 degrees cooler than it has been the past few years, Leetmaa said.
It'll hit hard, for two reasons.
First, a decade of unusually warm and mild winters will make this one feel especially cold, said National Weather Service Director Jack Kelly. He predicts at least three more super-Arctic outbreaks like the one that froze the Midwest last week.
Second, fuel shortages and high fuel prices are likely to make the cold especially painful, given recent reports that natural gas production is declining just as demand is rising.
Natural gas, in particular, which last year cost $3 for a million BTUs, now runs about $10, officials say, and could go higher.
The cause of the unusual cold is the Arctic Oscillation: a belt of air below the North Pole that affects the climate in much of the Northern Hemisphere. In the late 1980s and 1990s the Arctic Oscillation was relatively warm. In recent months, it's grown colder.
"This year came in like a lamb warm and dry and it's going out like a lion," Kelly said.