Union Democrat staff

Several long-term weather forecasts offer differing predictions for the kinds of conditions Mother Lode residents can expect this winter.

The National Weather Service predicted temperatures will most likely be warmer than normal from September through January, according to an outlook released in mid-August by the organization's Climate Prediction Center.

The service said there is no "clear indication" whether precipitation in the region will be above or below average levels.

"It will probably be warmer than average according to the indicators," said NWS meteorologist Holly Osborne, adding that an updated outlook is due to be released Sept. 19.

The service looks at several factors when developing the seasonal outlooks, including yearly weather patterns and historical temperatures and rainfall from 1981 to 2010.

Meanwhile, the 2014 "Farmers' Almanac," released on Aug. 26, predicted a cooler winter for most of the country than in recent years. California is expected to have cool temperatures with "near-normal precipitation," according to editor Peter Geiger.

"We're predicting some precipitation in early-December, late-January, early-February and other scattered spots throughout winter," Geiger said.

The "Farmers' Almanac" has beenpredicting weather for the past 197 years. It correctly forecast above-normal snowfall in California's mountains through late December last year, which was followed by a prolonged dry spell from January to May.

Scattered precipitation would be good news, according to experts, who have said that back-to-back dry winters and a general lack of precipitation leading up to this summer made conditions ripe for a catastrophic blaze to sweep through the region.

"The early part of the season wetted a lot of things down and caused some brush to grow early on in the winter," said Ken Clark, senior meteorologist for the Pennsylvania-based company AccuWeather. "But then everything totally dried out much quicker than normal."

Heavy precipitation in December provided moisture to vegetation, which later became fuel for the Rim Fire when it broke out Aug. 17 in the Tuolumne River Canyon. The fire has since burned more than 246,000 acres and was 80 percent contained as of this morning.

AccuWeather predicted another dry winter with warmer than normal temperatures for the central and southern portions of the state, including the Mother Lode.

These dry, warm conditions are expected largely due to the lack of El Nino, a weather pattern that typically brings moisture to the area, Clark said.

Nancy Longmore, a fire prevention specialist with Cal Fire, advised residents to keep their homes prepared for potential wildfires by clearing a 30-foot "defensible space" around their properties, regardless of the weather.

"The important thing to remember is the potential for large, damaging wildfires always exists, no matter what kind of winter we've had," Longmore said.

"The fire season is still going and the need for people to do their defensible space is still important," she said. "Needles need to be cleared from roofs, yards need to be raked, grass needs to be cut - that could be the difference between your home standing or not during a fire."