(WGHP) – For the first time in years, an El Niño winter is upon us. That means this year’s winter outlook, released by the Climate Prediction Center, looks a little different than it has in several years.
The last three winters have been dominated by La Niña, which typically means a dry winter in the southern half of the country and colder, wetter conditions in the Pacific Northwest. But that’s not the case this year, as a strong El Niño looks very likely to stick with us through early next year.
What El Niño means for Nevada can depend on where you live in the state. While the climate pattern can bring some stronger storms to southern Nevada, its influence on the northern part of the state and the Sierra is weaker, according to the University of Nevada, Reno. That means an El Niño winter could be dry or wet depending on the year.
This year, the Climate Prediction Center, which is part of NOAA, admits it’s still a bit of a toss-up this far out. The outlook for most of the state includes equal chances of above-average, below-average, and average precipitation.
Only the far northeastern corner of Nevada is expected to be drier than normal this winter. The far southern tip might end up seeing wetter-than-normal weather between December and February.
When it comes to temperatures, this winter is leaning toward above-average temperatures for a large swath of the country, including northern Nevada.
The northern part of the state has about a 33% chance of above-normal temperatures between December and February, according to the Climate Prediction Center’s outlook.
What does El Niño mean?
El Niño is a weather pattern that has to do with the weakening of the trade winds over the Pacific Ocean, which leads to warm ocean waters in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.
The warmer ocean water then increases the potential for rainfall in areas like Southern California through Texas and even into the southeastern U.S.
In a typical El Niño winter, the Polar jet stream sets up slightly further north, which makes for warmer-than-normal temperatures in the northwestern part of the country.
A persistent Pacific jet stream sets up over the South, which brings increased rainfall for the majority of the Deep South including portions of the Southeast. The Tennessee River Valley tends to run drier than normal from an El Niño setup.
But El Niño’s impacts aren’t guaranteed.
“Note that a strong El Niño does not necessarily equate to strong El Niño impacts locally,” the Climate Prediction Center said in a recent update.
Plus, it’s still very early to know what winter will look like, considering autumn has just begun. NOAA’s fall outlooks were also updated last month, showing a likelihood of warm weather continuing in many states for a few more months, plus rain down South.