Unless you love shoveling driveways, NOAA releases good news about next winter, El Niño

June 14, 2018

Unless you love shoveling driveways, NOAA releases good news about next winter, El Niño

CLEVELAND, Ohio – After the final La Niña advisory, which aided in Cleveland’s brutally cold, snowy winter, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting the opposite for this year: an El Niño could be in the works.

Chances are high enough for an El Niño to form within the next few months that the Climate Prediction Center issued a watch today.

What does this mean for Northeast Ohio’s next winter?

Unless you love snow-blowing driveways at 5 a.m., this is good news for next winter in Northeast Ohio. El Niño’s effects will be opposite to the ones we felt last winter during the La Niña. Instead of days on end of sub-freezing temperatures, it’s more likely we’ll see a warmer, and drier, season.

But nothing is set in stone yet.

Forecasters with NOAA predict a 50-percent chance of El Niño starting as early as this fall and a 65-percent chance of El Niño conditions by the winter.

What is El Niño?

And there’s a reason why we could see a more mild winter.

El Niño and La Nina are two of the three phases of a natural cycle called ENSO -- the El Niño/Southern Oscillation -- across the tropical Pacific. ENSO oscillates between El Niño conditions, neutral conditions, and La Niña conditions.

For now, scientists expect neutral conditions through the summer before the chances of El Niño begin increasing.

According to NOAA, each full ENSO cycle lasts, on average, three to seven years and triggers predictable fluctuations in temperature, precipitation and winds. La Nina generally follows El Niño with neutral conditions in between, but there are no guarantees.

In an El Niño, weakened surface winds lead to an unusually warm surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. The increasing heat in the ocean triggers rising motion in the atmosphere above, which intensifies storms and rain over the Pacific.

Warm Pacific Ocean temperatures shift the jet stream south, making the atmosphere more unstable there, therefore increasing the threat of severe weather. So, during El Niño, the southern portion of the United States sees wetter than normal conditions, but most of the country sees either neutral or drier than normal conditions.

The jet stream shift also typically creates warmer conditions to the north, and cooler to the south.

When is an El Niño watch issued?

There are very specific criteria which must be met in order for NOAA to issue a La Niña or El Niño watch or advisory.

An El Niño watch is issued when conditions are favorable for the development of an El Nino within the next 6 months. An advisory will be issued once the conditions are ongoing, if they do end up developing. This is a forecast, after all.

Technically, that means sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean would have to warm at least 0.9 degrees above average in the preceding month. That warmth anomaly must also persist for five consecutive, 3-month overlapping periods. For example, five periods of December to February, January to March, February to April, etc.

Additionally, for an El Niño advisory to be issued, there must be different atmospheric components – it’s not all just in the ocean. Some areas of the tropical Pacific basin must see a decrease in rainfall and cloudiness and an increase in pressure, while others must see a noticeable increase in rainfall and cloudiness, and a decrease in air pressure.

When’s the next update?

The next ENSO update is scheduled for July 12, according to the Climate Prediction Center.

Keep checking cleveland.com/weather for daily weather updates for Northeast Ohio, and don’t forget to submit any weather questions you have!

Kelly Reardon is cleveland.com’s meteorologist. Please follow me on Facebook, Twitter @KellyRWeather and Instagram.

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