Forecasters predict a warming of the central Pacific Ocean known as “El Nino” will provide a break for weather-weary Americans this year.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric and Administration issued an official El Nino watch Thursday. In a typical El Nino year, there’s a stronger flow of wind at the Jet Stream level, and a stronger Jet Stream over the southern U.S.
Jeff Garmon, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Mobile, says that can increase the potential for severe storms: tornados, severe thunderstorms, squall lines, things of that nature.
“The flip side is, because the Jet Stream is stronger across the southern United States, that means there’s more wind shear over the Gulf of Mexico,” Garmon says. “That tends to result in tropical cyclones during the hurricane season that are more sheared, and less organized.”
An El Nino warms up once every few years, from a combination of wind and waves in the tropics. Meteorologists at NOAA expect it to lead to more rain next winter for drought-stricken California and southern states, and even a milder winter for the nation's frigid northern tier next year. Fewer Atlantic hurricanes are also predicted.
Globally, it can mean an even hotter year coming up and billions of dollars in losses for food crops. NOAA's Climate Prediction Center projects the El Nino warming should develop by this summer, but that there are no guarantees. An El Nino started to brew in 2012 and then shut down suddenly and unexpectedly.
Some forecasters are speculating that this El Nino may even push out a decade-long slowdown in temperature increase, and send global warming to a whole new level. But Garmon says the jury’s still out on that, as well as for the upcoming hurricane season that begins June 1st.
El Ninos are usually strongest from December to April. The flip side is a La Nina, which has a general cooling effect and has been more frequent. Five La Ninas and two small-to-moderate El Ninos have developed in the past nine years. Neither have appeared since mid-2012.