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Winter could be nasty, brutish and long, if we are to believe the current Farmers' Almanac. The National Weather Service forecast is for a warmer than average winter. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Winter predictions all over the map: Will it be warmer or colder than usual?

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If we get the choice between a very cold and snowy winter or a bitterly cold and dry winter, can't we pick option 3: none of the above?

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Hubbard County is perched between those two upcoming choices, according to the 2010 edition of the Farmers' Almanac, which hit bookstands Tuesday.

The "very cold" option covers the Great Plains, northwestern Minnesota and the Red River Valley; the "bitterly cold" option hovers over the Great Lakes region and the remainder of the state. Park Rapids is on the precipice of either.

Hold the phone, says the National Weather Service.

"Our Climate Prediction Center has issued an El Nino advisory," said NWS meteorologist Jim Kaiser in Grand Forks.

Typically, under an El Nino system, a surface temperature change occurs in the Pacific Ocean.

"There is a lag time before we'll start to see it in our atmospheric conditions, so the Northern Plains have not seen the benefit of that yet," he said.

But El Nino is supposed to bring the region a warmer than average fall, along with a warmer than average winter, he maintains.

"It's been frosty and chilly but there is a lag time" to see the El Nino atmospheric effect, Kaiser reiterated. The extended fall temps call for 70s and a few 80s into the future, especially over Labor Day, he said.

"There will be a warmer than normal fall, better than a 50/50 chance," he said of the way the Climate Prediction Center looks at long-term weather prognostications. That branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the umbrella under which the NWS operates, studies ocean currents and different weather cycles, Kaiser said.

The warming Pacific currents typically take a good three months to affect atmospheric conditions in the Midwest, he said, and El Nino has not yet peaked out west.

But Kaiser doesn't totally discount the Farmer's Almanac prognosis.

"When we're looking at outlooks four to six months in advance, sometimes we have to take them with a grain of salt," he said of the ever-changing landscape his office operates in.

"Even though we're supposed to have a warmer winter, there will still be arctic outbreaks, but they'll only last for days," not weeks.

And Kaiser said he cannot predict winter snowfall totals.

"Typically El Nino causes the southern stream to be more active," he said. "That would cause our weather to be drier than normal. We may see less snow."

And, with those warmer atmospheric conditions seemingly stalled over the Pacific, Kaiser said the cold persists.

"We're still hanging on to the cold spring and summer," he admitted. "It may be too late for us to see a good summer" by the time El Nino arrives.

But the Farmers' Almanac is standing by its prediction, offering up a colder than normal winter for our region.

Let the bets begin as to which prediction will be closer to what Old Man Winter actually brings us.

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