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How La Niña could bring severe weather, snow to Arkansas this season

Here's what you can expect to see this winter in terms of severe weather, drought, and of course winter precipitation like snow, sleet, or freezing rain.

ARKANSAS, USA — It's once again time to talk about winter weather here in Arkansas, and we have two words for you— La Niña.

Just like the winters of 2021 and 2022, the winter of 2023 will also be directly impacted by La Niña.

La Niña is a climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean that can affect weather on a global scale— ocean waters in the Pacific are cooler than normal, causing the jet stream to push northward.

This results in drier-than-average conditions and warmer-than-average temperatures.

But how will La Niña affect our weather here in Arkansas this winter? Our weather team took a look ahead.

First, let's talk about severe weather. Severe weather is actually pretty common during Arkansas' winter months, and certainly during La Niña.

A couple of notable outbreaks included the largest tornado in Arkansas history back in January 1999 and last year's December outbreak that spawned 12 tornadoes here in the state.

The climate pattern will have an influence on our weather between now and spring. In fact, this will be our third consecutive winter with La Niña conditions.

That's pretty rare in and of itself, but it allowed us to look back on some of the previous La Niña winters to get an idea of what to expect.

Since La Niña leads to warm and dry conditions in the Deep South and generally cooler and wetter conditions up to our north, this will set us up for the classic battle of air masses.

Now, using history as our guide to look ahead, it's a good bet that Arkansas will see at least two to three rounds of severe weather this winter. 

In addition to severe weather, drought is also something to be on the lookout for during  La Niña.

We started out this year wet, after seeing above-average rain during the spring, but ended with little to no rain throughout the summer months.

These drought conditions were especially noticeable in October near the Mississippi Delta Region, where we saw some of the lowest recorded water levels in history.

It doesn't help that during the cooler months, we tend to see less rainfall here in Arkansas.

During a La Niña winter, it tends to be drier across the Southeast— unfortunately, it's already been dry across Arkansas these last few months.

The state saw no shortage of burn bans and wildfire risks this year, and it's predicted that Arkansas will likely see below-normal precipitation through the rest of the fall season and into early winter.

Although drought conditions are expected to worsen, looking back at historical data in the state, they are usually short-lived.

Overall, the progression of the drought will be slow— which means that we have the potential to see quick improvements if there is substantial rainfall periodically. 

Finally, we looked at the odds of seeing snow, ice, or cold rain this winter.

As temperatures continue to drop in Siberia, Alaska, and northern Canada, snow has piled up— but how much and how often will that polar air break-off pay us a visit in Arkansas?

On average, the polar jet stream plunges into the Deep South several times, which sends temperatures plummeting— and will have you searching for your heaviest winter coats and gloves.

Once the cold air is in place, the most difficult question to answer is whether there will be enough moisture to produce wintry weather.

We're forecasting one or two winter weather events in central Arkansas that will lead to some accumulation of winter precipitation— such as snow, sleet, or freezing rain.

Since 1950 when we had measurable snow in November during outlining the winter, the snowfall totals for the season were less than 6 inches.

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