The Pacific Ocean surface contributing to the El Nino that has roiled global weather patterns has begun to cool, and the entire phenomenon may fade completely by June, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center said.
It is too early to say if the El Nino is already waning, because while the water is cooler, the atmosphere’s reaction to the Pacific temperatures, the other half of the phenomenon, is still quite strong.
Forecast models favor its atmospheric and oceanic components to wind down through the Northern Hemisphere spring and vanish by early summer, the center said. There’s about a 40 percent chance a La Nina, marked by a cooling of the Pacific, may start gaining ground sometime between August and October.
“We saw some of our strongest atmospheric metrics so far in the past month, so I don’t think it’s very accurate to say the entire phenomenon is weakening,” said Michelle L’Heureux, a meteorologist at the center in College Park, Maryland. “From the ocean perspective, it is definitely not a rapid weakening so far and we’re still seeing a strong event.”
This year’s El Nino has been blamed for a spike in Pacific typhoons, choking smoke blanketing Singapore and droughts across Asia and southern Africa. In the U.S., it’s implicated in a record warm December and heavy rains that have contributed to flooding on the Mississippi River.
The storms bringing high amounts of rain and snow are expected to persist across the southern U.S. through the rest of the winter. Northern states may end up being drier. El Nino’s impact on the U.S. is greatest in January and February. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said earlier this month that a number of indicators suggested El Nino had peaked.
Like El Nino, La Nina disrupts global weather patterns, typically increasing Atlantic hurricanes and tropical storms.
California precip lifts drought, producer’s spirits
After four years of devastating drought, the spirits of California farmers and ranchers have been lifted by recent rain and snow events.
Many news report have attributed the increased precipitation to the El Nino weather pattern. But California Farm Bureau president Paul Wenger, who grows almonds and walnuts in Modesto, says El Nino is just getting started.
“The last El Nino we had was 1998 and it didn’t start until the second week of January,” Wenger says. “Our December this year was very good. A lot meteorologists say this really wasn’t El Nino yet. We had as much precipitation this December as we had the last three Decembers combined.”
Wenger tells Brownfield the increased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is also encouraging.
“We’re in a good place right now. We’ve got some good snowpack starting to develop. It’s very wet snow-they call it Sierra Cement,” he says. “But we’re hoping that January-February-March are very, very wet months, that we continue to add to that snowpack, and we get some rain as well.”
The latest Drought Monitor report, dated January 12th, shows 69 percent of California is still in Extreme or Exceptional drought-a slight improvement from 71 percent in mid-October. One year ago, that figure was 78 percent.
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