The latest El Nino diagnostic discussion was issued July 9th and climate forecasters are predicting at least a 90% chance of continuing El Nino conditions through this winter, and at least an 80% chance it will continue into the early spring of 2016. In fact, this could be a very strong El Nino…possibly stronger than the El Nino seen during the winter of 1997-1998, which was one of the wettest on record for parts of California and resulted in massive flooding.
What is El Nino? It’s a warming of the waters in the equatorial and eastern Pacific ocean. This can affect weather patterns globally by altering the position of the subtropical jetstream, dipping it further south which in turn tends to pump more tropical moisture into the southern half of the US. For us in Texas, that generally brings us more upper-level low pressure systems which in turn means more stormy weather, increased rain chances and cooler temps by virtue of more cloud cover. We’ve seen that already this spring with historic rainfall in April and May that virtually brought our 5-year drought to its knees. It can also mean a less active Atlantic hurricane season..most likely due to an increase in mid to upper-level wind shear in the Caribbean and Atlantic.
What will it mean for us this fall and winter when impacts from El Nino are typically observed? Much the same. Maybe not with historic flooding…we can’t predict anything of that nature this far out…but we can say that the trends for Winter 2015-16 will likely be cooler than normal temperatures with above average precipitation chances. Does this mean we’ll be really cold this winter with lots of snow and ice? No one can predict if it will snow 5 months from now, but we certainly could see a bit more snow than we usually do across the panhandle and northern Texas. Keep in mind too, lll it takes to be considered “below normal” is a string of temps that are just a few degrees below what’s typical for us in the winter. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the arctic circle will reposition itself over the state…although I’m sure we’ll have some days when it feels that way!