By James B. Kelleher and Sam Nelson

(Reuters) - Snow lovers living in the U.S. Northeast and Rocky Mountains are going to rejoice this winter, according to AccuWeather.com.

The private weather forecasting firm released its long-range winter forecast on Wednesday, highlighting its predictions for temperature and precipitation trends.

While much of the northern part of the country, stretching from Wisconsin to eastern Washington, will see below-normal snowfall, Accuweather.com said the coming winter will be marked by plenty of big storms in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic.

The firm's meteorologists are also predicting an early start to the winter season, with above-normal snowfall and below-normal temperatures, in the central and southern Rockies.

Temperatures in the Northeast may start out slightly warmer than normal, the forecasting firm said, but will drop as the season progresses and snow accumulates.

In the Midwest, where the worst drought in 50 years hurt crops this year, Accuweather.com said snowfall levels would fall short of normal levels again this winter.

Temperatures may start out slightly above to near normal in the Midwest, but as the season progresses and some snow accumulates, it will turn colder than normal by February.

The Gulf Coast and Southeast are expected to have a wet winter, with above-normal precipitation, Accuweather.com said, bringing some relief to the parched Southern Plains and Texas.

While temperatures in the South are expected to be seasonable for the most part, according to Accuweather.com, cold air behind some of the storms may threaten citrus growing areas and tourist destinations in Florida.

The biggest area of concern this winter, the firm said, will be the Northwest, where drought conditions are expected to continue.

"With the exception of a break with some rain and snow during October and early November, it will be drier than normal through the winter season and maybe even longer as we head toward spring," said Paul Pastelok, a senior meteorologist at Accuweather.com and the head of its long-range forecast arm.

Pastelok acknowledged that long-range forecasts were, by their nature, imprecise.

Meteorologists universally missed the mark last winter, predicting a cold and wet season with heavy snowfall, especially in Chicago and other northern border cities and states.

Instead, last winter turned out to be one of the warmest and driest on record in much of the Midwest.

"Forecasts last fall were based on the prevailing La Nina weather system at that time, which usually leads to very cold weather in the northern cities," said Drew Lerner, meteorologist for World Weather Inc, Kansas City.

"What happened was the Arctic oscillator turned strongly positive and overrode the weak La Nina, Lerner said.

Pastelok said Accuweather.com meteorologists had the highest confidence in their prediction for a drier-than-normal winter in the Northwest, and a wetter- and cooler-than-normal winter in the Southeast.

Accuweather.com's meteorologists were least confident, he said, in their long-range winter outlook for the Midwest.

"Our weakest confidence right now is in the Midwest and Northern Plain states," he said. "It can go either way: It can be above normal or below normal. There's no in-between."

Also this week, the Weather Channel announced it will start to name "noteworthy" winter storms, the way forecasters name tropical cyclones, including hurricanes.

The channel released its preliminary list of storm names, including "Brutus," "Gandolf," "Magnus" and "Helen."

(Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Stacey Joyce)