El Nino to the Rescue?

Photo Credit
James J. Garriss

For the first time on record, both the Atlantic and the East Pacific have had tropical storms form before the opening of hurricane season.

In the Pacific, Tropical Storm Aletta began swirling four hours before the official opening of the East Pacific Hurricane Season on May 15. In the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Alberto started the Atlantic Hurricane Season 13 days before the official June 1 beginning.

Does this mean we will have long and active hurricane seasons? It all depends on El Niño. If El Niño develops in the Pacific, it will put a break to the storm development in the Atlantic. It won’t stop the weather disturbances altogether, but it will stop most from growing large enough to become tropical storms and hurricanes.

Remember—the recipe for a tropical storm is:

  1. Take a normal rainstorm and combine it with an ocean.
  1. Simmer gently over warm water  (+80˚F)
  1. Stir with favorable winds.

Where Atlantic tropical storms usually form in June. SOURCE: NOAA

Thanks to the fast flowing Gulf Stream, we have some very hot waters in the Gulf of Mexico and off the East Coast. These are the areas where early season hurricanes start. Now, we even have favorable winds over these regions. Tropical Storm Alberto developed last week and scientists are watching waters off the Florida coast for another possible storm.

That’s where an El Niño changes the situation. The El Niño is a huge weather phenomenon. Over a million square miles of the Tropical Pacific change temperatures. The warmer water heats the air above it, which changes air pressure. That changes winds, especially tropical winds. Since the phenomenon is so huge, it changes tropical winds all around the globe.

In the Atlantic, the high altitude winds tend to be strong and sheering. As a storm grows, the high winds sheer the top off, keeping it from growing into a hurricane. There always are some hurricanes in El Niño years, but usually a lower number.

The warm waters of the El Niño shape tropical high and low level winds and weather.


This year, we are seeing early tropical storm development in the Atlantic. We probably will even see an active hurricane season in the early part of the year, as storm after storm simmers over the warm Atlantic. Then if the models are right, El Niño will develop sometime in late summer or early autumn and rescue us.

It’s shaping up to be a story tale season. The damsels in distress—Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas—will be threatened by monstrous tropical storms. Then El Niño charges in on a white horse and quells the monsters by chopping off their tops. Happy ending!



Karen Slate (not verified)

9 years 6 months ago

20 days until WINTER in SUMMER begins!60s???! whattt?? tomorrow is the first day of june!!!!! I guess the snowstorm that i missed will come in either June or July. normal temp: 80!

Julie Price (not verified)

9 years 6 months ago

Evelyn, i need your opinion on this, this isnt about hurricanes im sorry! but we have this strong cool shot coming setting us back in the 60s and 70s for a multiple day stretch in West Virginia. Its almost june why should we be talking about cool shots anyway? I thought june was supposed to be warm and wonderful with perfect "lay out in the sun" weather!! i dont know about anyone else but i dont get in the pool with temps in the 60s.. Whats causing this nonsence? im so moving to florida. i get sick of this ugh! summer is a bummer this year

Denise Seamster (not verified)

9 years 6 months ago

I live on the coast of North Carolina and last years hurricanes kept me busy all season (including Irene) It flooded the Outer Banks and Norfolk along Virginia Beach. Atleast it wasent a category 5 or anything! theres one downside though.. el ninos favor cool, wet, miserable summers and thats something no one needs here. Keep it warm and seasonal precipitation :)

Denise Seamster (not verified)

9 years 6 months ago

Maybe this hurricane season will be similar to this years tornado season. The worst part of the tornado season were March and April but yet after that there hasent been much to speak of anymore. We all thought it was going to be a BAD tornado season but compared to 2011, this year was down from average. So we may think this will be a long hurricane season, it will probably end early! When is el nino expected to occour? I heard late summer into fall and winter. I just need el nino to do something to our low snow pack! Thats had negative effects on us this year

Brenda Lynn (not verified)

9 years 6 months ago

la nina and el nino. The little girl and the little boy! Isnt that how it goes? la nina was no little girl when she caused all these tornadoes across the united states. Atleast an el nino wont give me any severe weather. Hurricanes arent helping anybody!