Bye, Bye El Niño

June 20, 2016
Stormy Weather

Good bye Boy.  The El Niño is on its way out. It brought more rain in some areas plus lower summer food and cooling prices. But his sister is coming, and La Niña is no lady.

The El Niño weather pattern has been in place since last summer over the central Pacific Ocean; it brought above-average rainfall and surprisingly warm temperatures. However, the waters are cooling even more quickly than experts thought it would.

Unfortunately, this means scientists are expecting its twin sister, the cold, dry La Niña to arrive even earlier. The result will affect farms, pastures and, yes, your lawn and garden.

El Niño, the hot Tropical Pacific, is turning to a cool La Niña SOURCE: NASA

You see, when one-tenth of the world’s surface gets unusually hot or cold, it changes global weather. El Niño (which is Spanish for “The Boy) was named by South Americans for the Christ child and brings lovely moderate wet summers here in the US. La Niña (which is Spanish for “The Girl”) is just the opposite. The La Niña is a real, cool chick. 

It’s happening quickly. Last month, the El Niño was very strong—er—hot. Now the event is weak, barely above the 0.5°C (0.9°F) needed to qualify as an El Niño. By next month, it will probably be average, neither hot, nor cold. Ahhh—average! Does anyone remember what average felt like?

When climate and oceanology organizations around the world are polled, most seem to think the Pacific will cool to a La Niña by July/August/September. Source: NOAA

Scientists are telling us to prepare for a case of whiplash. When El Niños are strong and cool off quickly, it is like stopping a freight train. The colder temperatures just keep chugging along and La Niña follows in just a few months; the last time, it flipped to cold in only 2 (!) months. Yikes.

Initially, scientists were indecisive, saying maybe, just maybe, there was a 50% chance the Girl would arrive by autumn, after your gardens had given you a nice crop of tomatoes and flowers. Now they have upped the arrival to probably sometime in July/August/September. That could mean a lot of farms and ranches will fight with dry weather and if you live in Texas, the Great Plains or a lot of the Midwest, you get to bond with your garden hose. 

History shows that La Niñas normally bring a lot of dry weather. Source: NOAA CPC

So enjoy the rain while it lasts! By the end of summer, most scientists think we will see some real Girl Power.


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.