El Nino Now 85% Likely to Last Through Winter: U.S. Climate Forecasters

By | June 11, 2015

The odds that a weather-changing El Nino will last until the Northern Hemisphere’s next winter are increasing, though it’s too early to say if it will provide drought relief across California, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center said.

There is an 85 percent chance El Nino, a warming in the equatorial Pacific and a change in the atmosphere above the ocean, will persist into January and beyond. Last month the agency said there was an 80 percent chance.

“It is six months from the maximum impact,” said Michelle L’Heureux, a meteorologist at the center in College Park, Maryland. “This is our best guess at the time. The crystal ball is still cloudy, it gets clearer every month but it is still cloudy.”

While every El Nino is different, it has been known to push storms across the southern U.S. during winter months, favoring rain for California, and cut the number of hurricanes that form in the Atlantic. Globally, the phenomenon can cause droughts in Asia, crimp the Indian monsoon and reduce rainfall across parts of Australia and South America.

The agency also said there is a slight consensus among forecasters that this will be a strong event.

“A moderate, weak, or even no El Nino remains possible, though at increasingly lesser odds,” the monthly update said.

The immediate impact in the U.S. probably won’t amount to much until November or later. However, it is most likely this event will decrease the number of hurricanes in the Atlantic while increasing the amount of tropical systems across the Pacific.

Crumple Structure

El Ninos create wind shear in the Atlantic that can crumple the structure of a hurricane. Warm waters in the Pacific can increase the number of the storms, also called typhoons, west of the International Date Line.

As California gets most of its rain from November to March, there won’t be any immediate relief from the drought there that is now in its fourth year. Whether the El Nino will help at all is also open to question.

El Ninos typically push the storm track across the U.S. farther south in winter. If it pushes it too far, then the rain could miss California’s reservoirs.

In 1965-66, there was a particularly strong El Nino that sent storms so far south they missed California entirely, L’Heureux said.

Earlier this week, both the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the Japan Meteorological Agency also said they favored the persistence of El Nino.

–With assistance from Phoebe Sedgman in Melbourne.

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