If you’ve been paying attention to the weather news at all lately, you’ll know that it’s a big year for a weather event called El Niño.
The complex phenomenon could bring warmer, wetter weather to the US northeast this winter and much-needed rain to California, but worsen cold and drought conditions elsewhere in the US.
In Australia, the phenomenon is associated with dry springs and hot summers.
This year’s El Niño could be one of the worst on record, experts say.
“One of the strongest El Niño events in the past 65 years is likely to bring significant winter weather to the United States,” James Aman, Senior Meteorologist, Earth Networks, said in a statement.
What the heck is El Niño, anyway?
El Niño is a weather event characterised by warmer than normal temperatures in the equatorial Pacific ocean, with important consequences for global weather and climate, according to NOAA. (By contrast, La Niña refers to colder than normal Pacific temperatures.)
The effects of El Niño can be seena cross the globe, from increased rainfall in the southern US and Peru to drought in the western Pacific and brush fires in Australia.
Previously, the 1997-1998 El Niño was considered one of the most powerful in recorded history, triggering devastating droughts, flooding and other severe weather events. It caused an estimated $US35 billion in damage and 23,000 deaths worldwide, Vox reported.
Here’s what El Niño looked like in 1997 (left) and now (right):
And here’s a chart showing how this year’s conditions have already surpassed those of 1997:
Already, this year’s El Niño has helped put 2015 on track to be the hottest year on record. And it could have a big effect on winter weather in the US.
What El Niño means for winter in the US
California could get some drought relief from higher-than-normal rain and mountain snow from the golden state to the southern Rockies. But unusually hot temperatures and lower-than-normal rain or snow in the Pacific Northwest will likely extend the drought there.
The Northern Plains could see warmer temperatures from Montana to Minnesota.
The South will likely have colder temperatures and higher precipitation from Texas to Florida along the Gulf Coast, including Dallas, Houston, New Orleans and Tampa.
The Northeast can expect a warmer winter, with more precipitation up and down the Eastern Seaboard. Snowfall predictions in Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston are still up in the air.
It may be a good year for snow in California’s Sierra Nevada, the Southern Rockies (including Denver) and the Appalachians.
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