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Ron Learn, lead custodian at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, shovels snow outside of Erlanson Hall on campus on Monday afternoon in Superior. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Winter's first blast

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Winter's first blast
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Meteorologists say it's hard to tell if the upper Midwest will experience a mild or extremely cold winter, with little or a lot of snow.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's annual Winter Outlook helps predict average temperatures and snow fall.

This year most of the country is experiencing what's called an "equal chance," meaning there's no strong scientific data that can help predict if temperatures and snowfall will be above or below normal, or average.

Jeff Boyne, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in La Crosse, Wis., says water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean influence the phenomenon.

"It's just a rare occurrence there, that means we're not either warmer than normal, which would be an el Niño, or colder than normal, which would be la Niña."

Mike Stewart, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Duluth, says they predict average snowfall and temperatures this winter. That means 100-120 inches of snowfall near Lake Superior and 50-70 inches of snow further inland throughout the winter. Temperature-wise, there could be about 20 days when it's below zero.

Stewart says winter outlooks are important for many entities.

"[For] utilities, they know how much gas to buy, natural gas. Also electrical companies, people who have electric heat," he said. "For users such as ourselves at home, we'll know if we're going to have a cold winter. Do I need to set aside a little bit more for gas for our heating, do I need to buy a little more fuel oil?"

Municipalities also use winter outlooks to help predict how much salt to buy for de-icing roads.

While predicting this winter's trends may be difficult, northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin are under a winter weather advisory until 6 p.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service in Duluth. Snowfall from Monday through Wednesday may reach 10-15 inches for the Twin Ports and northeastern Minnesota, Andrew Krueger with the Duluth News Tribune reported Monday, and northwestern Wisconsin may see slightly less snow, perhaps 8-12 inches.

In the wake of the snow will come northwest winds ushering in arctic air. Thursday's lows are predicted to dip as low as minus 11 degrees, and lows Friday through Sunday are expected to drop to minus 10 to minus 15 degrees, according to the National Weather Service forecast.

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