El Niño is Back

Photo courtesy NOAA and Weatherbell.

El Niño occurs when Pacific Ocean water warms, as it has this winter and spring, affecting weather across North America. It’s relatively unusual—this is only the third strong episode since 1950. The last, in 1998, led to a relatively warm winter in Minnesota and turbulence in the atmosphere come spring. Meteorologist Paul Douglas tells us what this means for upcoming weather in the North.

  1. El Niño keeps the chill at bay. Douglas expects Minnesota will be warmer than average through spring. And while cold-snap relapses do happen, even this time of year, “There’s a reasonably good bet that we’re not going to suddenly plunge into a bitter polar vortex.”
  2. Expect a warmer spring and summer. Odds probably favor warmer-than-average summer,” Douglas says. Before then, the same weather trend that gave us a mild winter (by our standards) should endure—anywhere from two to five degrees warmer than average into late spring.
  3. Wait and see for its effect on storms. Douglas says that this year’s El Niño “is certainly rivaling or even exceeding” 1998’s warm ocean patch, but that we can’t accurately predict the effect El Niño will have on thunderstorms and severe weather this spring.
  4. Like snowflakes, no two El Niños are alike. This year’s El Niño harkens back to, and might outdo, 1998. Yet each one is different. “We did have large hail, we did have a lot of severe thunderstorms,” says Douglas of extreme weather that year. “But you have to be careful that you don’t lump everything into one blob and say, “Oh we have an El Niño, that automatically means XYZ.”
  5. El Niño will probably say goodbye this summer. The temperatures of the Pacific Ocean should be back to normal by late summer/fall. “The odds of this spilling over into next winter and maybe biasing us towards another mild winter I think are fairly small,” Douglas says.