OKLAHOMA CITY — You might have heard the news about a "Godzilla-sized" El Nino weather pattern that is bearing down on the United States this winter, bringing a heightened threat of snow, sleet and ice.

Rest assured, says Daryl Williams, a hydrometeorological technician with the National Weather Service in Norman, it doesn’t look like it will be as bad here in Oklahoma as in other parts of the country.

“That (description) makes good headlines,” he said. “But I think they’re talking about the West Coast.”

Yes, there’s a 30 to 40 percent chance that Oklahoma sees above-average precipitation this winter, with temperatures slightly below normal for most of the state.

But, currently, it doesn’t appear that our winter will be as dire as some predict.

“We’ll just have to see whether it’s rain or sleet or snow,” Williams said. “I can guarantee it will be all of the above. Our weather is just too sporadic for there to be any certainty (this far out.)”

The state Department of Transportation, responsible for clearing highways and interstates, pledges that it is prepared.

Spokeswoman Lisa Shearer-Salim said the department typically is ready for the worst "because it would not be a good thing for the traveling public if we were not prepared.”

The department has its salt and sanding sheds fully stocked and ready. Its winter equipment has been maintained, and crews in all 77 counties are ready to go as needed.

Still, Shearer-Salim stresses that motorists should be prepared, too. They should keep a winter weather kits handy and always check conditions.

Preparation aside, El Nino weather patterns usually have a “modest effect” on the state, Williams said.

“It’s not really that big of a factor,” he said.

While every El Nino is different, this one is expected to have the biggest affect on California, southern Texas, New Mexico and Florida.

The El Nino phenomena got its name from the Spanish phrase for a boy child, because the pattern was first noticed in South America around the Christmas holiday, he said.

The weather pattern is linked to temperature differences in the Pacific Ocean. That causes shifts in wind and temperature, which affect rainfall and weather on land, Williams said.

The El Nino counterpart, La Nina, typically increases the chances of a dry winter.

Last year, Oklahoma ended up in a weather pattern that meteorologists nicknamed “La Nada” — for none at all. The state didn’t get as much precipitation as usual last winter and remained in a drought heading into the soggy months of May and June.

That's when the skies opened, and Mother Nature gave Oklahoma all it had been lacking and more.

Now our thirst is quenched, Williams said this year’s El Nino hopefully will provides much-needed relief to the parched West Coast.

“They certainly, on the West Coast, need the rain,” he said.

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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