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AccuWeather.com predicts significant impacts from El Niño this winter, including milder temperatures for Maryland.
AccuWeather.com predicts significant impacts from El Niño this winter, including milder temperatures for Maryland. (AccuWeather.com)

After two consecutive winters with an unusual number of days hitting the single digits, a milder season is ahead for Winter 2015-2016, AccuWeather.com predicts.

But that doesn't mean we won't get slammed with snow some time before spring arrives, according to the forecasting service's seasonal outlook. (Yes, it snows every year in winter here.)

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The climate phenomenon El Niño is forecast to drive weather patterns around the world, sending heavy moisture and storms across the southern third of the United States. That is likely to mean cold Arctic air will stay up north, for the most part, but if any does dip southward to meet all of the moisture, it could make for some big snowstorms, said Carl Erickson, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather.com.

"The question is, are the timing and the phasing going to allow for the moisture in the south and the cold air in the north to meet up?" he said. "There's going to be some missed opportunities for storms, but every now and then, the timing might be right."

Phasing refers to when two branches of the jet stream, one carrying cold air from the north and another bringing up moist air from the south, converge to create major winter storms.

In general, El Niño is likely to prevent the large dips in the northern jet stream that brought Arctic air unusually far south the past two winters, he said. But there could be cases where the phasing does occur.

AccuWeather is therefore predicting average snowfall for Baltimore and the rest of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast this winter. That is about 18-20 inches at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, though National Weather Service statistics suggest snowfall is frequently above normal in Baltimore in El Niño years.

AccuWeather's forecasters meanwhile expect fewer sub-freezing days this winter compared with last winter, when temperatures dipped to 32 degrees or colder 18 times at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport -- most of them in February.

Last February's average temperature at BWI was the second-coldest on record for that month, at 25.3 degrees. Temperatures dropped into the single digits seven times that month.

Temperatures got as low as 1 degree Fahrenheit last Feb. 20, the coldest there since 1997.

In a typical winter, low temperatures might hit the teens a handful of times and single digits once or twice, but average lows don't get colder than the mid-20s, in January. Normal highs are in the 40s throughout the winter.

As for the rest of the country, one of the strongest El Niños in half a century is expected to help ease California's drought and cause severe storms and flooding in the Southeast along the Gulf of Mexico.

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