It has been an interesting winter in Montana. Ski hills around the area are struggling due to the severe lack of snow. I haven't even touched my ice fishing gear and it is almost time to pack it back up for the season. Or is it?...

To understand why we have been experiencing such a mild winter, you have to look west to the Pacific Ocean.

According to the National Ocean Service

El Niño can affect our weather significantly. The warmer waters cause the Pacific jet stream to move south of its neutral position. With this shift, areas in the northern U.S. and Canada are dryer and warmer than usual. But in the U.S. Gulf Coast and Southeast, these periods are wetter than usual and have increased flooding.

Scientists are now seeing the first indications that temperatures in the Pacific are starting to slowly change, issuing a "La Nina Watch" this week. It will take months for the transition, but eventually the temperature change should allow the jet stream to shift north, bringing wetter, and colder conditions to the Pacific Northwest.

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According to the National Ocean Service

These cold waters in the Pacific push the jet stream northward. This tends to lead to drought in the southern U.S. and heavy rains and flooding in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. During a La Niña year, winter temperatures are warmer than normal in the South and cooler than normal in the North.

However, don't expect any immediate snowstorms. The pattern must shift first to "neutral", where the ocean temperatures don't have much impact on our Montana weather. There's a 79% chance that will happen between April and June, and may give us some drought relief by at least bringing more normal shower activity in late spring and early summer. Researchers say La Nina's impact probably won't show until August, so the primary benefit would be for next fall and winter.

Every La Nina pattern is like a snowflake. It could be wild and out of control, or tame and predictable. We will simply have to wait and see.

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