The Quick Report

El Niño to Bring a Drastically Different Winter to the US

Forecasters from Climate Prediction Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are already anticipating that this year’s El Niño will bring a drastically different winter than we’ve seen in recent years.

The season kicked off in June, and the NOAA is expecting its effects to be strong this winter and continue at least into early next spring.

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Although no two El Niño winters are exactly alike, trends that they often do have in common are precipitation and temperature.

This year’s winter will be the first in a few years to feel the effect of El Niño, a phenomenon that can have a sizable impact on the weather during the coldest months of the year.

According to the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, they foresee a greater than 90% chance that the current El Niño will last through the winter and into March of 2024. The September El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Outlook predicts that this year’s climate pattern will last at least through January-March 2024.

What is El Niño

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El Niño is a climate pattern that describes the warming of ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. The phenomenon occurs when trade winds weaken, pushing warm water back east toward the west coast of the Americas.

The effects of El Niño can include an impact on ocean temperatures, ocean currents, coastal fisheries, and weather patterns around the world. 

This is one of three phases of the El Niño Southern Oscillation, which tracks water temperature changes in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. This oscillation can have rippling effects on weather patterns around the globe.

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These events typically occur every two to seven years and last nine to twelve months. The last El Niño event occurred four years ago, between February and August 2019.

La Niña, El Niño’s Opposite

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The opposite of El Niño is La Niña, which describes cooler-than-average sea temperatures. Both significantly affect Earth’s weather patterns. 

For the past three winters, La Niña has played a significant role, keeping the southern US dry, while delivering a lot of much-needed snow to the West.

What Forecasts Expect This Winter

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Forecasters say in an “average” El Niño winter, the effect on the US tends to be warmer temperatures across the northern tier from the Northeast to the Great Lakes region. Essentially from Oregon and Washington to Michigan west to east, and as far south as Nebraska. Parts of this region will also be drier.

The southern tier of the US tends to be wetter, including Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. The deep South and Southeast have both higher precipitation and cooler temperatures.

The Midsouth and the eastern Midwest and western parts of the Northeast tend to be drier.

Winter 2023-2024 Predictions

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Thus far for winter 2023 into early spring 2024, the southern tier of the US has an average of a 50% probability of being wetter, while the Northeast and the Ohio Valley have roughly a 50% probability of being drier.

The Pacific Northwest has a 60% probability of being warmer, as do portions of the North Central US and Northeast.