WASHINGTON (AP) – The government’s winter forecast includes some bad news – continued dry conditions in an arc sweeping from the Southeast across the Gulf States and into the Southwest.

Much of that region is already struggling with drought and “right now they are looking at the second consecutive dry winter,” Michael Halpert, head of forecast operations at the Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Md., said Tuesday.

Halpert told the 2007-2008 Winter Fuels Outlook Conference that most of the country should have milder than usual weather this winter. Heating degree days – the measure used in calculating heating costs – are expected to be about three percent below the average for the winters from 1971 to 2000.

Nevertheless, because of rising prices heating bills are likely to go up for homeowners using heating oil. Those depending on natural gas should see more stable costs from a year ago, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association

Halpert said he expects to be answering more questions about rain and snowfall this winter than about temperatures

A major factor in the forecast, he said, is the La Nina phenomenon which is marked by cooler than normal sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean. That cooling can affect weather worldwide.

A La Nina has been developing in recent months and is likely to continue at weak to moderate levels.

The northern Plains and Northwest are expected to have equal changes of above or below normal temperatures in winter – December through February – with the rest of the country warmer than normal, he said.

Wetter than normal weather is anticipated in the Pacific Northwest and in the Ohio and Tennessee valleys, according to the outlook from the CPC, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Asked about record-breaking warm weather in parts of the country over the last few days, Halpert said people should enjoy it while they can.

“It won’t last, that I can assure you,” he said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.