The Western View: El Niño Winter Ahead?

Dan Weather, Western View

winterThis year, we may have an El Niño winter. Then again, we may not! Weather experts with NOAA – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal government’s weather experts – are telling us that the odds are good we will have an El Niño event this year. It’s a 70 per cent likelihood, according to the scientists. But don’t get too excited – some of the experts say it will be a weak one.

El Niño Winter Ahead?

Just what is El Niño? Its weather, caused by changes in the temperature of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of south America. El Niño, and its counterpart, La Niña, are opposite phases of a pattern of change in the temperature difference between the ocean and the atmosphere in the east-central Pacific ocean.

So what happens during an El Niño? According to Professor Jason Furtado of the University of Oklahoma School of Meteorology, During an El Niño, snowfall is above average across the southern Rockies and the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, and is below normal across the Northwest and Midwestern states.

The professor says that the typical El Niño effects develop over North America during the winter. Those include warmer-than-average temperatures over western and central Canada, as well as the western and northern United States. The El Niño influence can affect weather patterns and ocean conditions across the globe for several months, or even years. It often causes severe wet weather in the southern states, while creating drought conditions in the Pacific northwest and the northern plains states.

The bottom line for westerners is, growers in the northlands can expect a warm, dry winter, and southerners should see a warm, wet winter. But there’s a caveat, as there almost always is when you’re talking to scientists. Professor Furtado says it’s going to be a weak El Niño.

He says that yes, the Pacific ocean at the equator is warming and should be warmer than usual – which would create the El Niño – but the water well south of the equator is unusually cool. Thus, according to his research, if the El Niño forms at all, it will most likely be a weak El Niño event.

Which means what exactly? I think it means winter is coming and we don’t know exactly what to expect. According to my Farmer’s Almanac, it’s going to be cold and wet some days, nice and warm other days. It’ll rain some, probably not enough, or maybe it will rain too much. We’ll just have to wait and see.

I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View from AgNet West and Citrus Industry Magazine. Visit us on the web at