El Niño – Will It Get Stronger or Weaker?

January 27, 2016
Earth in Snow

The El Niño hot tropical waters can bring rain and snow to the U.S.


The El Niño is fading away! Yay! Considering the horrible weather that it brought, that’s a good thing.

The El Niño may return and start growing stronger again. Whoops!

Following the snowstorm in Washington D.C. and the Mid-Atlantic states, weather announcers were quick to proclaim that it’s all due to the current strong El Niño. The event typically brings heavy storms and rains to the South and many of these storms sail up the East Coast as snowy Nor’easter blizzards.

Normally these type of storms occur from January through March, during the peak of the Tropical Pacific event. Currently the El Niño has peaked and has been cooling down since mid-December. However, experts warn that there are signs it may start warming up again. 


Since December 16, the El Nino area of the Tropical Pacific, (along the equator) has been cooling. Source: NOAA

It’s important to understand that the El Niño is just hot water, a lot of hot water, covering more than 1/10 of the Earth’s surface. It churns. Pools of warmer and cooler water flow through it. Since December, a surge of colder water has flowed through and is cooling it.

These pools of warm and cool water are tied to winds. Strong winds stir up the surface and cool it. When they are quiet, the ocean bakes under the tropical sun and becomes hotter. Lately the winds have been more active, so temperatures in the Tropical Pacific Ocean have dropped. Now it shows signs of becoming more active. 

Hot and cold MJOs flow through the El Niño, making it stronger and weaker. © Browning Media

These patterns of stronger and weaker tropical winds are called MJOs (Madden Julian Oscillations). They flow from west to east. It looks like one is forming and will start heating things up in February. The heat would stop El Niño from fading and make it warm up again. Then we can get even more exciting weather.

So keep an eye out. A quiet area in the remote tropics may be coming our way, bringing more rain and snow for the U.S.!

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.