How cold will it be this winter in NYC? NOAA releases 2016-17 forecast

NEW YORK — How bad will this winter be in the New York area? Might as well flip a coin!

Whatever happens significantly depends on the waters half a world away in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center released its 2016-17 U.S. winter forecast Thursday, calling for wetter and cooler conditions in the northern U.S. and drier and warmer weather in the South. The New York area is in the zone of "equal chances" of cold and wet or warm and dry.

We "have an equal chance for above-, near-, or below-normal temperatures and/or precipitation," NOAA said.

Not very helpful perhaps, but La Nina is partly to blame. La Nina is a phenomenon in which the waters of the equatorial Pacific become colder than usual — the opposite of the more famous El Nino. This year, La Nina may be "weak and potentially short-lived," NOAA said. We are currently under a La Nina watch, with the conditions likely to develop in the next few months.

La Nina's usually mean colder and wetter (meaning snowier) winters for the Northern U.S., but if the phenomenon does weaken, then we may get a break later in the season with warmer and drier conditions, NOAA said.

In fact, by the end of the season, the winter of 2016-17 may register as warmer than average, the agency said in a press release.

The outlook doesn't predict when and where snowstorms or cold snaps will hit the hardest, but people should plan for a chance of extreme winter weather this season regardless of La Nina.

It is winter, after all.

“This climate outlook provides the most likely outcome for the upcoming winter season, but it also provides the public with a good reminder that winter is just up ahead and it’s a good time to prepare for typical winter hazards, such as extreme cold and snowstorms,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director, of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, “Regardless of the outlook, there is always some chance for extreme winter weather, so prepare now for what might come later this winter.”