Developing El Nino could usher in abundant rains for drought-stricken California

By Blake Mathews, Weather producer, meteorologist, bmathews@wjxt.com
Published On: Apr 10 2014 08:23:34 AM EDT
Updated On: Apr 09 2014 10:40:00 AM EDT
1997 El Nino
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Meteorologists around the globe are closely monitoring the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in the Pacific that is showing signs of warming up. Sea surface temperatures that are above +0.5°C is considered El Nino. Because of this, NOAA has issued an El Nino Watch. Below is the ECMWF model (Euro) showing eastern Pacific sea surface temperatures in region 3 (near South America) soaring by late summer.

Nino Region 3

If an El Nino is indeed in the works, it probably would not begin to influence global climate until the late summer or autumn of 2014. 

The implications of El Nino can affect global weather contributing to, not causing, more intense monsoon seasons, longer droughts as well as hyper-active hurricane activity in the eastern Pacific and another relatively mild Atlantic hurricane season with fewer storms.

On a side note, a quieter Atlantic hurricane season doesn't mean less destruction. In 1983, a season that spawn only four storms, birthed Hurricane Alicia which devastated the Houston-Galveston region. Closer to home, the 1992 season was quiet as well but a little storm by the name of Andrew obliterated south Florida.

El Nino events are cyclical and are caused by the tilting of the Oceanic Kelvin Wave which is a deep, underwater wave that acts like a see-saw that migrates water west to east. According to Dr. Jeff Masters, these waves are alluded to be the facilitators of El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events. 

While ENSO can exacerbate ongoing droughts and contribute to even heavier rain during monsoon events, it may not all be bad news. These ENSO events often correlate well with abundant rains in drought-stricken California. 

According to NOAA (Climate.gov), many parts of California have only received between 10 and 30 percent of normal precipitation expected by this time of year. With the winter months being the wettest of the year, the outlook for summer remains extremely dry. 

Adding to the misery is the temperatures. A persistent high pressure cell over California has led to one of the warmest winters on record leading to a melting snow pack.  However, some long range forecasters see rain on the horizon.

According to Accu-Weather's long range forecaster Mark Paquette, "An El Niño may enhance the summer monsoon over the Four Corners region of the Southwest as tropical moisture funnels in from the Eastern Pacific. Whether monsoon moisture is enhanced over drought-stricken California is less certain at this time"

However, there is some hope for rain later in the year that could impact the California drought, which has been weighing heavily on ranchers, Paquette said.

"The greatest effects on the weather pattern in the Lower 48 states, including California, occur during the cold season. As far as impact on next winter, it is too early in the game to make a call one way or another, but some El Niño patterns in the past [1997-98] have produced significant storms in California," Paquette said.

So what does a strong El Nino mean for us here in Florida? According to the Weather Authorities Chief Meteorologist John Gaughan, it means a wetter than average period for us here up until next winter. Then things could turn into a tender box. By March of 2015, drier conditions could persist leading to a potentially active wild fire season. 

Stay tuned. We'll continue to update this story as the El Nino forecast is better refined in the coming weeks and months.  


 

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