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What is all this talk about El Nino?

If you are like me you are probably asking that very question. What is it? Why does it matter? How will it affect us here in the north? Any articles that I have come across seem to be filled with a doom/gloom outlook on what it can bring here, weather wise.

So my first question is  – what is an El Nino? In short, an El Nino is a warm phase of the El Nino Southern Oscillation or ENSO and it is associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific (between approximately the International Date Line and 120°W), including off the Pacific coast of South America. Got that? Yeah, me too…

Basically it is a prolonged warming in the Pacific Ocean. It is a 3 month average of at least 0.9 °F in temperature rises. Doesn’t seem like much, but apparently it is a pretty big deal. In the U.S., El Niño status is determined by consensus of a team of NOAA scientists who look at the current conditions in the ocean and atmosphere of the tropical Pacific Ocean. They also take into account what computer models predict is likely to happen over the next few months. Although borderline El Niño conditions have persisted since October, with intermittent El Niño conditions last summer, this is the first month that the scientists decided to officially call the El Niño event.

Back in 1997, the strongest El Nino on record occurred. Asia burned and lost their rice and coffee crops. The Atlantic hurricane season was extremely quiet and brought a much cooler wetter summer to the U.S. Hmmm – cooler summer…. That means a quiet hurricane season and for what we have seen so far, it’s been mighty cold for June.

What does this mean for us? Well, it means we will have a cooler summer and far fewer hurricane threats. It means that the south will continue with the wet weather and flooding and in the west the drought will most likely worsen. One extreme or the other it seems. It could also explain why we had such a snowy winter.

In any case, El Nino’s do have a significant impact on our weather if they are considered severe. By all accounts, this one appears to be the most severe in almost 2 decades. Maybe even beyond.