El Niño and Snow
Will El Niño bring us more snowfall this year?
It's been a record setting December in terms of snowfall. North America's weather is being effected by El Niño. But is El Niño solely responsible for bringing us all this snow? I spoke to Jared Klein at the National Weather Service to find out.
He explains, "El Niño is typically part of a whole phase called the ENSO phase. El Niño is the warm phase of the ENSO phase, and it's typically an unusual warming in the tropical Pacific near the Equator. A lot of times there's cooler air located in the eastern part of the tropical Pacific near Peru, and during El Niño phases there are warmer than normal waters."
El Niño phases can occur every two to seven years, but most commonly they occur every three to four years. It lasts for about twelve to eighteen months.
Klein says, "Currently, since July, we've been in an El Niño phase. Right now we're in a moderate phase and it's borderline strong; so the forecast for El Niño this winter is either borderline moderate or strong."
El Niño has global effects. Here in North America it changes the typical subtropical jetstream which brings moisture from the Pacific Ocean, especially during the winter months.
Klein adds, "Usually the subtropical jet is very active so a lot of times we have wetter than normal conditions in the southern part of the U.S. And a lot of times that suppresses the cold air from the north, so we could have above normal temperatures in the central and northern part of North America and below average temperatures and wetter weather in the southern part of the U.S."
But does an El Niño phase guarantee us more snow? Klein says not really, but he notes in a recent report that more snowfall was observed in D.C. during moderate El Niño phases since 1950.
"We do find some influence in the D.C. area in the wintertime. Unfortunately it's very variable so we don't always get wetter than normal seasons, or we don't get above normal temperatures. It varies, but we have seen some big snowfall seasons. We've also had some very dry, less snowy winters. There's a lot of variability because El Niño is not the only determining factor for our climate," he says.
The official NOAA winter outlook has our region with below normal temperatures, but equal chances of seeing a wet or dry winter. Winter has only just begun, so we'll have to wait and see what the rest of the season has in store.
One more thing...I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!