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!
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.