POLO, Ill. — Baby, it’s cold outside. And Larry Acker says we could be saying that for a while.

The founder of 3F Forecasts believes the frigid weather that has visited us in December may stick around like an unwanted party guest. The Midwest is in for a cold winter following a November marked by tornadoes and a December that saw the mercury dropping below zero in some locations.

“December has been colder than normal. That should continue,” Acker said. “New Year’s Eve is going to be a tough one, too.”

That cold spell may stretch even longer, said Acker, who bases his prediction partly on historic patterns.

“The weather in general is probably going to be colder than normal, at least until the first of March,” he said. “That’s the way the cycle is working. We could have a thaw the first week in January. But we’re looking for below-normal temperatures basically through February.”

However, Mike Timlin, regional climatologist at the Midwest Regional Climate Center, pointed out that standard indicators of long-term forecasts are absent.

“For most of Illinois we’re in the no-use forecast section,” he said. “There are some hints it’s going to stay cold this winter. They don’t know for sure what’s going to happen because we don’t have a strong El Niño signal or something like that to hang our hat on.

“There’s nothing on the horizon that we’re really dreading, where we’re saying, ‘Oh boy, we’re really in for it now.’ There’s really nothing huge in one direction or another.”

Acker sees a probability of some wild swings in 2014.

“It’s going to be an interesting year,” he said. “One of the big things lurking in the background is that the 1936 drought cycle will be back. That was the time we had the widest extremes of temperature we have ever recorded in this country. That cycle is coming back.”

Plant diseases could be more of a problem than usual, Acker said. He is monitoring that and plans to release a report shortly after the first of the year.

“What we need to keep an eye on is the disease cycle — scab and diseases like that,” he said. “That’s definitely picking up.”

A continuation of below-average temperatures through the first part of the year could, however, help reduce insect populations. That is especially true for regions with relatively little snowfall.

“In case of a lot of snow cover, they can hide in the snow,” Acker said. “The snow will be an insulating factor. But on bare ground, that should kill off a lot of insects.”

He doesn’t predict a lot of snow, though southern Illinois was hit with a severe winter storm in December that resulted in as much as 14 inches of snow falling on top an ice layer.

“I don’t think we’re going to see as much snow as we’d like to see, because we’re going to want some moisture later on,” he said.

“Up here (west of Rockford) we’re still in a drought. When it’s super cold, you don’t usually have a lot of moisture. And now we’re running about 10 to 15 degrees below normal.”

Timlin also noted that many areas of Illinois could use some precipitation.

“The western part of the state is a little drier,” he said. “We’ve still got some drought issues out in that direction, and down into Decatur. Now that the ground’s pretty well frozen, we’re not going to have a lot of recharge, but maybe we can build up some snowpack in the winter and that will help as it melts off in the spring.

“Some places are doing OK, and there are a few places that are still a little bit dry. Southern Illinois is doing a little bit better.

“Even if you’re a little dry, if you have a good snowpack sitting on top of it, you feel like you’re in pretty good shape.”