JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After a prolonged stretch of La Nina conditions, an El Nino is looking very likely to develop later this year.
So what is El Nino? And how will it impact our local weather?
The El Nino pattern
El Nino is Spanish for “the boy”. El Nino conditions develop when waters off the coast of Peru are warmer than average for a prolonged period of time.
Locals began noticing this abnormal warmth as early as the 17th century.
The full name also used is El Nino de Navidad, or “the Christmas boy,” as these conditions often peak in December.
It is now known that El Nino conditions extend thousands of miles from the South American coast, into the central Pacific.
It is believed that the El Nino pattern has existed for thousands of years. An El Nino often lasts between nine months to two years.
The opposite of El Nino is a La Nina.
La Nina, which is Spanish for “the girl,” is when cooler than average water temperatures for a prolonged period of time.
The planet has been in a La Nina pattern for the past three years.
El Nino conditions create significant changes globally.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the warm ocean water helps to move the Pacific jet stream south.
This creates drier than normal conditions across the northern US and Canada and creates wetter than normal conditions in the Southwest and Southeast.
Some of the more significant rains in southern California and parts of the Southeast have come from El Nino events.
El Nino also impacts the Atlantic hurricane season.
The El Nino conditions help increase wind shear across the Caribbean and tropical Atlantic.
This wind shear helps reduce development of tropical storms and hurricanes, and can often dissipate weaker systems.
Is an El Nino developing?
We are beginning to get strong indications that El Nino conditions are developing.
Water temperatures off the Peru coast have been warming in the past month, and the warmth is building across the central and eastern Pacific.
The vast majority of global models are indicating that an El Nino will likely develop by late spring or early summer. This El Nino will likely persist into the winter months.
The Climate Prediction Center has issued an El Nino watch, stating there is a 62% chance of El Nino conditions developing.
The organization also stated there is a 40% chance of strong El Nino taking hold later this year.
An El Nino quickly developing in the coming months could be welcoming news for hurricane season.
El Nino conditions are known to help suppress tropical activity in the Atlantic. Wind shear is higher in the Atlantic basin during El Nino years, reducing the frequency of hurricanes.
This suppression would mean the likelihood of an above-average hurricane season is low.
It should be noted that major hurricanes can happen in El Nino years.
1992 was an El Nino year. That hurricane season did create Hurricane Andrew, which decimated portions of South Florida.
If an El Nino were to remain in place heading into the winter, the likelihood of a rainy and unsettled stretch would increase. The threat of severe weather and tornadoes is also higher in an El Nino winter in this area.
Scientists will continue to keep a close eye on developing El Nino conditions, as the result could be big changes to the weather pattern globally and here at home.