Hot, Hot, Hot: The Changing Pacific

January 29, 2016
El Nino Globe

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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!

About This Blog

Are you a weather watcher? Welcome to “Weather Whispers” by James Garriss and until recently, Evelyn Browning Garriss. With expertise and humor, this column covers everything weather—from weather forecasts to WHY extreme weather happens to ways that weather affects your life from farming to your grocery bill. Enjoy weather facts, folklore, and fun!

With heavy hearts, we share the news that historical climatologist and immensely entertaining Almanac contributor Evelyn Browning Garriss passed away in late June 2017. Evelyn shared her lifetime of weather knowledge with Almanac editors and readers, explaining weather phenomena in conversation and expounding on topics in articles for the print edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as well as in these articles. We were honored to know and work with her as her time allowed, which is to say when she was not giving lectures to, writing articles for, and consulting with scientists, academia, investors, and government agencies around the world. She will be greatly missed by the Almanac staff and readers.