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Whither to flee this winter? Go West, snowbirds, go West

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 9:00 PM EDT, Thu October 18, 2012
 A woman walking a dog and a man cross a snow covered street on January 27, 2011 in Brooklyn, New York.
A woman walking a dog and a man cross a snow covered street on January 27, 2011 in Brooklyn, New York.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The western United States should have a warmer winter, federal forecasters say
  • But Florida below the panhandle should be cooler this winter
  • There's a kink: El Nino hasn't developed, taking away confidence in forecasts

(CNN) -- Attention all snowbirds: If you're looking for the best retreat this season, go West, you travelers, go West. The western half of the Lower 48 is forecast to have a warmer-than-average winter.

Meanwhile, Florida below its panhandle is expected to be colder than usual from December to February.

That prognostication comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center. But there's a catch this year.

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The Pacific weather system known as El Nino isn't behaving as expected, forecasters say. In fact, it hasn't even fully developed yet.

El Nino indicates warmer ocean water in the equatorial Pacific, and that influences the jet stream and gives forecasters confidence in their work.

"This is one of the most challenging outlooks we've produced in recent years because El Nino decided not to show up as expected," Mike Halpert, center deputy director, said in a statement. "In fact, it stalled out last month, leaving neutral conditions in place in the tropical Pacific."

Forecasters are keeping an eye out for El Nino.

The official 2012 U.S. winter outlook favors warmer-than-average temperatures in much of Texas; the Central and Northern Plains; the Southwest; the Northern Rockies; eastern Washington, Oregon and California; and the northern two-thirds of Alaska, the center said.

Hawaii, however, is expected to have cooler temperatures.

Conditions will be drier than typical in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, northern California, Idaho, western Montana, most of Nevada and portions of Wyoming and Utah, the center said.

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It will also be drier in the upper Midwest (including Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and northern Missouri); eastern parts of North and South Dakota; Nebraska; Kansas; and western Illinois, the center said.

This winter should be wetter than usual across the Gulf Coast states from the northern half of Florida to eastern Texas, the center said.

It's a crap shoot for the rest of the country. They are given an "equal chance" for one of three winters: above, near or below normal, the center said. The center's outlook doesn't predict snowstorms, however.

Sorry, Frosty.

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