Meteorologists, weather forecasters and other prognosticators are seeing the approaching winter a little differently.

"We really don't know" what the winter might look like, said Ed O'Lenic, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center.

NOAA's prediction for December through February is pretty cloudy for the zone that includes Virginia. The statistics and weather models used to make seasonal outlooks this year do not clearly indicate what the mid-Atlantic states could experience, O'Lenic said.

"We truly are not settled on what's the most likely thing to happen in either precipitation or temperature," he said.

What will have the greatest impact on Virginia's winter, especially along the coast, is likely to be a weather pattern known as the North Atlantic Oscillation, but it's also a weather feature that makes predictions challenging. The North Atlantic pattern, which is characterized by unpredictable shifts in low- and high-pressure systems, contributes to northeasters, the strong storms that produce winds from the northeast.

But because the pattern "wobbles back and forth" from week to week, O'Lenic said, it is difficult to predict the effects of the North Atlantic Oscillation very far in advance.

"We're overdue for some nor'easters," said Bill O'Toole, a math and computer science professor at Mount St. Mary's University in Maryland who forecasts the weather for the Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack.

O'Toole had to make his predictions before July, when the Almanack was published. He believes that winter is likely to start early, around November, and end early, around February. The snowiest month will be January, he says.

Overall, temperatures may be slightly higher than usual, although there will be a few snowstorms, O'Toole said.

"I don't expect that it's going to be a real severe winter -- kind of average," he said.

The 2006 Old Farmer's Almanac predicts temperatures along the Atlantic corridor "will be 1 degree below normal, on average, with above-normal precipitation in most of the region."

According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, the biggest snowfalls will occur in early December and mid-January, and temperatures will be lower than normal during those months. Higher-than-average temperatures in the Atlantic, key to this year's active hurricane and tropical storm season, could affect this winter's weather, O'Lenic said, but those temperatures have not been considered in the making of winter weather forecasts.