El Niño Set to Impact Winter Weather Patterns
(CNN) — As autumn settles in, meteorologists are already turning their attention to the upcoming winter season, which is expected to be noticeably different this year due to the El Niño phenomenon.
El Niño is a phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, a weather pattern that occurs when ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific remain warmer than usual for an extended period. This year’s El Niño began in June and is predicted to be strong, lasting until early spring, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center.
The previous three winters in the United States were heavily influenced by its colder counterpart, La Niña, which resulted in dry conditions in the South and substantial snowfall in parts of the West. However, this year’s El Niño is expected to shift weather patterns once again.
Typical El Niño winters are characterized by changes in temperature and precipitation patterns. The position of the jet stream, a significant factor in weather patterns, tends to shift southward during an El Niño winter. This alteration often leads to wetter and colder conditions in the south, while the north experiences drier and warmer weather, according to NOAA.
The increased frequency of storms moving south during an El Niño winter brings a higher chance of precipitation, including freezing rain, sleet, and snow, to states in the southern region. This news is particularly crucial for areas suffering from severe drought, such as Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
Conversely, the north is likely to experience a milder winter, with isolated storms causing occasional bouts of brutal cold and heavy snowfall. However, these occurrences are expected to be less frequent, which may present challenges for regions in the Midwest, given their current extreme drought conditions. Additionally, the snowpack in the Pacific Northwest, a vital water source for the area, might also be adversely affected by the milder weather.
Unpredictable El Niño patterns make it challenging to determine how California, the Southwest, and the Northeast will be impacted. The number of storms and increased precipitation in California and parts of the Southwest depends on the strength of the global El Niño event. A stronger El Niño could result in more rainfall and snowfall, while a weaker variant might leave the region dry. Similarly, the Northeast could experience milder conditions compared to its northern neighbors, but the area may be susceptible to potent coastal storms along the Atlantic coast.
To gain insights into the potential effects of the upcoming winter, analysts reviewed past El Niño winters. The 2018-2019 season, which featured a weak El Niño, saw notable storms, including a December event that blanketed Texas to the Carolinas with snow and ice. It was also the wettest winter on record in the continental US, accompanied by above-average temperatures in the East. In contrast, the extremely strong El Niño during the 2015-2016 winter led to the warmest winter on record in the same region, despite significant snowstorms, including a deadly blizzard along the East Coast. The last winter with an El Niño phenomenon of similar intensity to this year occurred in 2009-2010. During that season, the southern and central US experienced below-average temperatures, while the East Coast was hit with multiple blizzards.
As scientists and forecasters continue to monitor El Niño’s progression, it is important for residents and authorities to be prepared for potential disruptions in typical winter weather patterns. While the exact outcomes remain uncertain, the presence of El Niño ensures that this winter season will not be a typical one.
– National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center