(CN) — California’s frightening wildfire season is unlikely to get much help from the weather, with the U.S. government predicting that hot and dry conditions will continue throughout the winter.
From December through February, the entire southern half of the U.S. will face warmer and drier weather, according to a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center.
“With a La Nina climate pattern in place, southern parts of the U.S. may experience expanded and intensifying drought during the winter months ahead,” Mike Halpert, deputy director of the center, said in a press call Thursday.
This is bad news for California, where 35% of the state is already experiencing severe to extreme drought, according to a government drought report.
In most of the state, the center predicted, drought conditions will “continue or worsen.”
Winter is a critical time for California because roughly 75% of the state’s annual precipitation typically occurs from December through February, due to long plumes of moisture originating in the Pacific Ocean.
As a result of drought and high winds, the state just issued a Red Flag alert for extreme wildfire risk in the state’s northern region.
California has counted 8,000 fires so far this year, burning a record 4 million acres and claiming 31 lives.
Compounding the official tally of 31 deaths, meanwhile, scientist Daniel Swain at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability noted that many more people likely died from the resulting smoke.
Swain said mortality from the subsequent smoke storm and extremely poor air quality likely exceeds 1,000.
Both August and September produced record-high temperatures in California, Swain noted, even though the smoke from the September fires blocked out the sun and resulted in lower temperatures that would otherwise have been the case.
In northern Shasta County, the Zogg fire that killed four people and burned 50,000 acres has been fully contained after it prompted an emergency declaration from Governor Gavin Newsom. The Glass fire in wine country is now almost entirely contained after burning through more than 67,000 acres.
All of California can expect above-average temperatures this winter, according to Thursday’s report. So can the Middle Atlantic and New England. Southern New Mexico and Texas face the greatest chance of extreme high temperatures, which follow on what the center described as the warmest September in the U.S. since records began to be kept in 1880.
Only Washington state, Montana and the Dakotas can expect cooler-than-normal temperatures.
The southern half of the country can also expect drier-than-normal conditions, the center said, with the most extreme conditions again found in southern New Mexico and Texas.
In the Midwest, the northern plains and Rockies, however, more precipitation than usual is expected.
Much of New England has been experiencing drought this year, but these conditions will improve over the winter, the center said.