Jan. 22, 2016
When Will El Niño End?
by Historical Climatologist Evelyn Browning-Garriss & Climatological Analyst James J. Garriss
As headlines predict a snowy apocalypse because the politicians in Washington DC may face (horrors!) two feet of snow, the unwritten headline is that El Niño has peaked. In more than half of the strong El Niños on record, the event dumped a huge amount of snow on Washington. Then, having made its snowy mark, the El Niño fades.
There are numerous signs that the El Niño has reached its peak and is already showing signs of fading. This is important to track. The strongest El Niños, those where the tropical Pacific is at least 2°C (3.6°F) hotter than normal, have historically been followed by a few months later by a drought-inducing La Niña.
The timing of when a dry La Niña starts is critical, since untimely dry weather can wreck a summer pasture or damage crop development. So when do experts expect it to fade?
It is already fading. Over the past four weeks, the western waters of the La Niña have been getting cooler. This does not mean the fading will be continuous. The Pacific is turbulent, with surges of warmer and cooler tropical water that flow from west to east. Currently there is a large area of cooler water floating into the hot El Niño. Some scientists suggest it may be followed by a warmer blob in February, giving the El Niño more hot water and letting it last longer.
When weather agencies around the world are polled, more than 90 percent agree the El Niño will last all winter. Slightly more than 60 percent expect it to last all spring. Less than 40 percent expect it to continue into June. This means there is a good chance that late summer may be seeing some very dry conditions in critical areas.
If this El Niño listened to farmers, it would last into summer, bringing its normal summer rains. Maybe it would dump a bit more snow on the sidewalk of your least favorite Washington politician. As it is, here at Browning Media, we are watching it fade and warning our readers. Just as El Niño can bring heavy rains and snows — when it fades, so does the rain. – EBG | JJG
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