Winter doesn’t officially begin until next Wednesday, but the system currently tracking across the heartland would normally classify as a winter storm - if the accompanying temperatures were cold enough to produce snow.

The warm December storm system – with occasional heavy rain and even some thunderstorms – may be the norm for the winter of 2011-12 rather than the exception. That’s because weather analysts see changes to the weather patterns that dominated the last couple of years, bringing relief to some, but not all regions.

Last year’s strong La Nina was blamed for much of the historic drought across the southern U.S., and a moderate La Nina still exists. But other factors may have more influence over this winter’s weather in the northern Great Plains. For instance, Creighton University meteorologist Art Douglas says a strong low pressure over the Arctic is in place and will likely persist for the next three months, leading to extended periods of above normal temperatures for the U.S.

Additionally, Douglas says waters off the West Coast cooled during the fall to some of the coldest levels of the past 60 years. “This cooling will restrict the amount of moisture in Pacific storms entering the West and thus this region is likely to see a much drier winter this year compared to last.”

The past two winters have been brutal in many areas of the Central Plains, and historical records suggest a change is in order. For instance, Kansas City, where an average of 22 inches of snow fall each year, received 44 inches of snow two years ago and 36 inches last winter. Kansas City has never recorded three winters in a row with 30 inches of snow or more.

Kansas City meteorologist Gary Lezak predicts more rain and freezing rain and less snow on his weather blog at

“We are forecasting an active weather pattern across North America this winter with strong and wet storm systems, most frequently over the Great Lakes states,” Lezak says. “The most likely spot for a drier winter is along the Gulf of Mexico coast from Texas to Florida.”

Lezak says the Kansas City area will have near average temperatures with above average precipitation.

Creighton’s Douglas expects drought conditions to weaken in the Southwest and Texas, but persist in the Southeast. “It appears that the drought in the Southwest is tending to relocate itself farther north into the interior West and the central and northern Plains.” Douglas expects normal precipitation through January in west Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

National Weather Service’s 90-day outlook, however, predicts drought conditions to persist for much of the southwest. Their 90-day outlook predicts above normal seasonal temperatures for the Southwest, the southern Great Plains, and southern sections of the Mississippi Valley. The same regions are expects to see below-average precipitation.

Below-normal temperatures are predicted by the National Weather Service for the Northwest, the northern Rockies and the northern Great Plains. Above-average precipitation is expected for the Northwest, the central and northern Rockies, the northern Great Plains and the northern sections of the Great Lakes region.