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Weird winter weather: Want snow? Head south

Cindeka Nealy / Midland Reporter-Telegram

High school students in Midland, Texas, used their lunch break Monday for a snowball fight.

Where's winter? If you're in the lower 48 states you might try Midland, Texas. At some 20 inches so far this season -- more than half of that dumped on Monday alone -- it's got more snow than most U.S. cities much farther north.

Cindeka Nealy / Midland Reporter-Telegram

Snow covers cars at the Midland Memorial Hospital parking lot on Monday.

Take Minneapolis, Minn., at just 10.3 inches of snow so far this season (the norm: 24.9 inches), according to weather.com. Or Chicago, Ill., at just 1.9 inches, when by this time last winter it already had seen nearly 17 inches. Or Buffalo, N.Y., at just 5.5 inches, not the normal 44.4 inches.

In Midland, which saw a daily snow record Monday from a system that also spawned a twister or two in the Houston area, National Weather Service meteorologist Jim DeBerry credits the above average snow to a strong La Nina, the cyclical weather pattern that starts in the Pacific Ocean.

"We usually average only one or two light snow events each year and this is our third one," he told the Midland Reporter-Telegram. On top of that, the Midland forecast is for possibly more snow by Saturday.

But La Nina was also expected to bring a strong winter to the northern part of the U.S., forecasters predicted last fall. What gives?

Minnesota Public Radio meteorologist Paul Huttner says it's complicated.

weather.com

"There may not be one specific reason," he said in a Q&A on the MPR website. "The jet stream has stayed unusually far north in Canada so far this winter. One reason is the so called Arctic Oscillation. It's been in a strong 'positive phase' this year which means stronger westerlies and Pacific air masses for Minnesota" instead of the colder air coming down from the Arctic.

Folks there are even beginning to wonder if they'll see a below-zero temperature this winter. Every previous winter in 140 years of records has seen temps below zero, but this year could be different.

In any case, Huttner says, other signs show Minnesota trending towards milder winters in the future.

As for Tuesday, Huttner expects the area to see a record high 52 degrees, shattering the 49 set in 1990.

NBC's Kristen Dahlgren reports.

The outlook for those who like snow is improving, however. By Thursday, the Minneapolis area should see some snow and temperatures 5-10 degrees below normal.

And while just 12.9 percent of the country was covered by snow on Sunday, that "will not go any lower for a long time" due to an expected cold front, weather.com meterologist Jim Cantore predicted on Twitter. "We should double this by the end of next week."

Can't wait for lots of snow? Head to Alaska, where a severe winter means record snow, bitter cold and strong winds. The coastal fishing town of Cordova, where National Guard troops are helping remove a serving of snow that's twice the norm, has even branded its winter: Snowpocalypse 2012.

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