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Hot, Hot, Hot: The Changing Pacific

April 13, 2014

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The Tropical Pacific is thousands of miles away from the chilly Midwest. Despite the distance, the fate of your summer grocery and electrical bills rest on those warming tropical waters.

An El Niño in the Tropical Pacific can shape the weather in the chilly Midwest. Source: Wikipedia

The good news is that the balmy Pacific waters are getting warmer. Our government is on an El Nino watch. If, as most scientists expect, we get an El Nino, the weather will be good for agriculture. If we get one large enough, it will bring rain and plentiful crops to the Midwest. If it is larger, it will bring good rains for California’s fruit, nut and vegetable crops. If it is bigger still, it will bring bountiful rain to Texas and the price of your hamburgers and steaks will go down. It can even shape a warm winter that will lower next winter’s heating bills.

An El Niño is when the Tropical Pacific gets so warm that it changes global weather. Source: NOAA

When Pacific waters warm, they warm the air overhead. That changes the air pressures that shape and direct winds. When the Tropical Pacific warms, it creates air pressure patterns that direct rain to enter the United States and Canada. Typically, when these waters warm, creating an El Niño, they create conditions that are good for US agriculture and consumer’s pocketbooks. 

The big question is how big the El Niño is going to be. It might not happen—that there would just be a few months of a warm Tropical Pacific that doesn’t linger long enough to become an official event. Most scientific models suggest a 50–60% chance of a weak event. History suggests it should be a moderate event, enough to bring good rains to California and Texas but not break droughts. However, some current development show some real heat developing causing some scientists to say that we will have a very strong El Niño over this summer and winter. The scientists are arguing.

Scientific models disagree how big the El Niño will be. Sources: NOAA, IRI and CPC

What is nice is that they are basically arguing on how much the developments in the Pacific will ultimately lower your grocery and electrical bills!

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Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, is a longtime writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac. She is also editor of The Browning World Climate Bulletin and has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.

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And down here in Texas, we

By Barbc

And down here in Texas, we are desperate for rain, rain, rain!

California gets rescued from

By Evelyn Browning...

California gets rescued from drought by El Ninos before Texas does. For an El Nino to end the Texas drought, it has to either be strong or long, lasting into spring. Good luck!

This little boy will be

By Evelyn Browning...

This little boy will be forgiven for a lot of mischief if he brings good rainfall for California and Texas. You are right, typically, the East Coast from the Carolinas to southern New York see stormier winters.

I'm concerned about this

By josefine g

I'm concerned about this disgusting weather the east coast has been cursed with this year. Here in Greensboro, NC it was a long brutal winter and this cool rainy spell we're expecting to start the month of May is NOT welcome in the eastern US, as so many of us are just sick and tired of this miserable weather. It is the last thing we need right now. California needs rain and we need some heat! The effects of El Nino are far less noticeable in the summer than they are in the winter though. However, I do remember summer El Ninos being pretty hot. They can also cause wild weather in North America, especially in the winter.. which probably makes the job of weather experts more interesting :) Lets not forget about the ice storm of 1998 in New England and the monstrous snowstorms that slammed the southeast in the winter of 2010. El Nino is a little boy and we all know how mischievous little boys can be!

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