Heavier-than-usual winter rain and snow could bring relief to some drought-afflicted parts of the country including the Midwest and Appalachia, the National Weather Service says.

The Upper Midwest - especially Michigan, Ohio and adjacent areas - have the best chance for a wet winter, the weather service says in a long-range forecast.December through February also could provide wet weather in other Midwestern states, the Pacific Northwest and parts of the Middle Atlantic and Appalachian regions.

"This particular season, we think, is more likely to be warm than cold, more likely to be wet than dry," Donald L. Gilman, the agency's chief long-range forecaster, said Monday.

Large areas of the middle of the country, including the northern Plains, remain a major question mark, however, with the forecast too close to call in those regions, Gilman said.

A major factor in the prediction is a pattern of cooler-than-normal ocean temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, said Gilman. Unlike years when this area is warm, the cooler conditions tend to steer weather systems from the Pacific across Mexico and into the Southeastern states, pumping warm air into that region.

But Gilman pointed out that conditions in the northern Pacific and Gulf of Alaska are unsettled, and changes there could upset the outlook for California and the Northwest.

"This is a zone of great doubt," he said.

The best news is probably that there is little severe cold in the forecast, Gilman said.

The strongest chance for wetter-than-normal weather is in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, he said.

Other areas that can anticipate a wet winter are Washington, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, western North Carolina, western Virginia and eastern Tennessee.

Dry conditions are expected from Southern California eastward through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and the southern portions of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.

Warmer-than-normal conditions are expected in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, most of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and all states to the south and east of those.