(Reuters) - Residents of much of the U.S. Northeast, dreading a repeat of last year's historically snowy and cold winter, will get a break this time around, at least initially, meteorologists at AccuWeather.com said on Wednesday.
Frigid temperatures that made February 2015 the second-coldest February on record for the region will be replaced this winter by milder weather largely due to one of the strongest El Nino weather pattern phenomena in the last 50 years, the weather watchers said.
The same El Nino weather phenomenon that will keep the U.S. Northeast defrosted will also drive heavy rain and mountain snow to California, helping to replenish reservoirs left dry by drought, the forecasters said.
"After the winter of 2014-2015 brought brutal cold to the northeastern United States, this season is set to be milder overall, but particularly during the early part of the season," AccuWeather forecaster Paul Pastelok said.
"The Northeast and mid-Atlantic can expect fewer days of subzero temperatures than last year," he said.
However, milder weather in the Northeast could change in February and March, and upstate New York and northern New England may not see any of the warmer temperatures at all, Accuweather.com said.
Farther west, the Great Lakes region can expect snowfall and precipitation totals to fall below normal due to a lack of Arctic air.
The El Nino pattern, a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, also raises the risk this winter in Florida for tornadoes and in southern Georgia and South Carolina for severe weather events.
In the northern Plains, wintry weather will start early, back off in the middle of the season and return again before spring, forecasters said.
While the Northwest and Rocky Mountains are likely to end up with snowfall totals much below normal, the Southwest will see frequent wet and snowy conditions.
Drenching rains in California may lift drought conditions but will also raise the possibility of mudslides, Pastelok said. The 2015-2016 season may yield triple the amount of snow that fell last year in California's central and northern mountains, although even that amount may not be enough to end the state's water crisis.
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Eric Beech)