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A degree of uncertainty: Despite gains, some aspects of weather prediction remain an imperfect science

The Capital District had received less than three inches of snow as of Wednesday, Jan. 24. That's 31 inches below the winter season average by the end of January and about 60 inches behind the normal season total.

Many weather forecasters, including the publisher of the Old Farmer's Almanac, believe the El Nino effect is at work once again.

El Nino certainly has made it milder the first part of winter, said Peter Geiger of the Old Farmer's Almanac.

El Nino is Spanish for "little boy," and in weather terminology, it is an event that involves an eastward migration of a mass of warm water found in the Pacific Ocean. Experts believe every three to seven years the easterly trade winds in the Pacific weaken, causing a mass of warm water to drift from Australia to the western coast of South America. This triggers heavy rains, which create a chain reaction that affects jet streams and weather patterns throughout the world -- especially in the winter in the northern hemisphere, where mild winter temperatures can occur.

"This El Nino has given us a slow start, but we are happy with where we are right now with our predictions," said Geiger.

The Old Farmer's Almanac predicts most of the snow in the Northeast will fall between February and early March this year. So far, Buffalo is the front runner for the Golden Snowball Award, given to the New York municipality with the most snowfall in a year. Buffalo has received 43.3 inches of snow this year, compared with Syracuse, which has received 37 inches, and Albany, with 3 inches. The majority of Buffalo's snow " 24 inches -- fell during a freak October snowstorm.

The weather phenomenon El Nino is a fact, but how it works is mostly theory.

Vernon Kousky of the National Weather Service said that in the past few months, North America has seen a weakened El Nino effect.

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