Weather Blog

Coming soon to an ocean near you -- El Nino?

Coming soon to an ocean near you -- El Nino?

It's news snow fans and skiers probably do not want to hear -- climate forecasters are staring to see signs that El Nino conditions are developing in the Pacific Ocean.

El Nino is a warming of ocean temperatures in the tropical region of the Pacific -- part of a typical 3-5 year cycle where the temperatures drift from warm (El Nino) to normal (neutral) to cold (La Nina) then back again.

We had been in a strong La Nina pattern of the past two years, and have trended back to neutral again this spring.  Now it appears the warming phase may be starting to take hold, perhaps as early as by the end of summer.  (Read more here -- and click on "Weekly ENSO update, best one is PDF format.)

In the Pacific Northwest, El Nino doesn't typically have much affect on our summers, but our winters are another story.  El Nino winters are usually associated with warmer and drier than normal conditions.

That correlates to a less-than-normal mountain snowpack and lowland snow is rarer. (OK, so after last winter, there might be some eager for a snow-less winter.)

That said it doesn't mean lowland snow chances are zero, just lower than normal. And there will still be some great days to go skiing, just maybe not as many as last year if El Nino does indeed get going. So don't sell that snowboard just yet.

Right now, long range forecasts still call for a better chance of a warmer and drier than normal summer, and a normal winter, but those forecasts are updated once a month. The next update comes on June 18 and might change based on new El Nino information. So check out those links then.

On the other hand, El Nino usually spells trouble for Southern California.

One of the main effects is to bring the tropical jet stream pointed right there, making for a much wetter-than-normal winter.

There is some hope for those who aren't El Nino fans. For one, some models think El Nino will hold off a while longer, keeping us in neutral conditions for the interim. Also, with a longer cycle called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation perhaps trending toward a cooler phase, it might mitigate some of El Nino's usual effects.

We'll see. Long range forecasting is still quite a challenge so stay tuned!