The nation's weather forecasters have decided to stick their necks way out and predict the weather more than a year in the future.

Local forecasts for up to a week have become quite accurate. But previously the National Weather Service has limited its long-range projections to 90 days.Starting Jan. 15, the weather service's recently renamed Climate Prediction Center will issue a set of three-month forecasts extending in steps out more than a year. It will update the forecasts each month.

"It's not that we know that much more than before, but whatever little we know, we know well in advance and there's no reason not to tell people," said Huug M. van den Dool, a climate center meteorologist.

Electrical utilities are expected to be major users of the new forecasts, van den Dool said.

Water management officials also are likely to consult them for irrigation planning and forest fire protection as well as decisionmaking about desalinization in the Southwest, hydropower planning and agriculture.

And transportation managers may be able to use the outlooks to decide whether to stock up on road salt or maybe take a chance and buy less than normal to save money and storage costs.

The first set of long-long-range forecasts will begin with February-March-April of 1995, and end with February-March-April of 1996.

Don't look for a precise temperature or a prediction of rain or shine on a particular day - but rather a general climate outlook for the three-month period.

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The researchers will try to forecast, for various regions of the country, whether the period will be wetter or drier, warmer or cooler than normal for the season.

"This is really a forecast for the user who knows how to use odds . . . it's totally useless for organizing a picnic." van den Dool said. "It's not a weather forecast."

The forecasts will contain estimates of probable error and explanations of how they were developed. "It allows a really educated user to evaluate each tool . . . it gives a complete look into the kitchen here, there are no secrets," he said.

Winter and summer forecasts tend to be most reliable at long ranges, while forecasts can be quite difficult for the spring and fall transition seasons, when weather may change wildly from day to day.

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