El Niño: A Pack of Predictions

January 29, 2016
El Nino Globe With Snow
NASA

El Niño is coming! It’s going to be HUGE! No, it’s dying! No, it’s coming but it will be weak!

There are a lot of different predictions on whether this winter will have an El Niño, Source: NASA

Getting whiplash yet?

Here’s what is going on.

The El Niño is an ocean and weather pattern in the Tropical Pacific. Because it is so big, the pattern affects weather all over the globe. In particular, a strong El Niño brings warm winters to the North and drought-breaking rainfall to the West. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to news about El Niño.

Unfortunately, the news is confusing—really confusing!

Since the 1400s, people observed that when the Eastern Tropical Pacific heats up, becoming an “El Niño”, it creates rainfall in parts of the Americas. By the late 1800s, scientists began to study the pattern and its global impact. With the arrival of satellite observation and ocean buoys, the studies and definitions became very detailed and precise.

The scientific definition for an El Niño has been narrowed down. Is it too narrow? Source: Browning Newsletter

The Pacific has many different currents flowing through it. During May, it looked like a very strong El Niño was developing. Starting in June, a small cool current churned it up. Now another little current, this one very warm, is starting to drift into it.

What is happening is that all this churning has kept the Tropical Pacific from looking like the precise narrow pattern now used to define El Niño. Despite not fitting the exact scientific definition of an event, most of the Tropical Pacific area water is warm and is creating El Niño style weather.

At the moment, the consensus of scientists, say the Pacific is neutral and there is a 67% chance of a late autumn/winter El Niño. Other announcements hint of a 50% possibility in spring.

El Niños bring welcome winter rainfall to California. Source: NOAA

So far, conditions in the Pacific have been similar enough to an El Niño to give us a cooler summer and an excellent crop year. Now Californians get to hope that the Pacific remains similar enough to give them drought-breaking El Niño-style rain this winter.

It’s possible, even likely. The Tropical Pacific is starting to warm up again. But—wow—this year the Pacific is really confusing!

About This Blog

The column, “Weather Whispers,” is authored by James Garriss and Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologists and weather addicts!  Whether you enjoy the science of weather or the fascinating folklore or just fun weather phenomena, it’s probably covered by these weather watchers!

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