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Potential impacts of an El Niño winter

Posted at 5:46 PM, Jul 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-27 11:51:06-04

While it is only the end of July, some people are already wondering what kind of winter we will have this year. Although it is too early to provide any type of winter forecast, there are signals being watched, and a phrase you have likely heard before: El Niño.

Right now, there is a 55 to 70 percent chance El Niño conditions will continue to develop this fall and winter. 

Meteorologist in Charge at the National Weather Service in Valley Suzanne Fortin explains what exactly El Niño is.

"It's one of many large-scale patterns that basically control the atmosphere. And so it's one predictor of a potentially warmer than normal winter. But the local effects here maybe are not as great as we see on the coastal areas of the United States," says Fortin.

We look to the Pacific coast for signals of what may be coming, as meteorologists record anomalies in sea surface temperatures to see if they are running above or below average. In an El Niño pattern, temperatures are slightly warmer.

"What's going on in the Pacific Ocean in terms of temperature trends and the sea surface temperatures. and so based on what's going on there it causes different changes in the upper-level flow pattern over first, the central Pacific and then it translates over to north America," explains Fortin.

In general, El Niño winters can bring warmer conditions in the northwest and cooler and wetter conditions in the southeast. 

However, 3 News Now Meteorologist Jennifer Zeppelin says that doesn't mean we can't see some decent snowfall totals during an El Niño winter.

"When it comes to an El Niño event with warmer temperatures, a little bit more moisture to work with, the combination of the two can provide us with a lot more snowfall and a lot in a very short amount of time," adds Zeppelin.

Many people across the area may remember one particular El Niño winter of 2009-2010 when Omaha received nearly 50 inches of snow.

For now, we will continue to watch the signals and keep bringing you updates as we get closer to winter.