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Published February 27, 2012, 11:25 AM

What's causing the mild winter?

FARGO, N.D. — The Arctic oscillation is both friend and foe to residents of the Upper Midwest. It’s been mighty friendly so far this winter.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — The Arctic oscillation is both friend and foe to residents of the Upper Midwest. It’s been mighty friendly so far this winter.

If you wonder “Whatever happened to our winter?” look to the Arctic oscillation, said Greg Gust, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, N.D.

Gust spoke Feb. 22 at North Dakota Corn Growers Association’s annual Convention in Fargo, N.D. About 225 people attended.

The region has enjoyed record and near-record warm temperatures so far this winter, the opposite of the exceptionally cold conditions that most experts had predicted, Gust said, noting that he, too, had expected a cold, snowy winter.

But professional weather forecasters have their limitations, he said.

“We’re pretty good at doing the forecast for tomorrow and the next few days. But once you get a week or more into the future and you start getting to the short- and longer-term climate outlooks, that’s a whole ‘nother animal out there,” he said.

The Arctic oscillation — a sea-level pressure pattern between the North Atlantic and Arctic — unexpectedly turned positive, causing less frigid winter air to extend to the Upper Midwest, Gust said.

It appears that the Arctic oscillation will shift to its negative phase, which would turn next winter colder, Gust said.

But that’s not yet the official National Weather Service climate forecast, he said.

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