El Niño

El Niño — an area of warmer than usual water in the Pacific Ocean — has disappeared, weather forecasters say. 

WASHINGTON STATE — A weak El Niño went away in July as sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean along the equator cooled to within a normal range, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Aug. 8.

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center estimated the chances of neutral conditions sticking through the winter at about 55%. An El Niño has a 30% chance of returning, while La Niña has a 15% chance of forming, according to the center.

Neutral conditions deprive climatologists of their primary clue to what the upcoming winter will be like. El Niño conditions tend to warm up the Northwest and lead to low snowpacks. La Niña conditions cool the region.

“For the winter ahead, there’s just not a lot to go on,” Washington State Climatologist Nick Bond said.

There is still a clue. Waters off the West Coast are warmer than average, which could tip the odds in favor of a mild winter, Bond said.

NOAA’s report was the first this year that made neutral conditions the odds-on favorite to prevail through the winter.

An El Niño formed in February. Federal forecasters in the spring rated the chances of it staying throughout the year as good. The El Niño, however, never progressed from weak to moderate.

“It was never much of one,” Bond said. “The weather patterns we got didn’t resemble previous El Niños.”

Also on Aug. 8, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported that 61% of Washington was in moderate or severe drought, unchanged from the week before.

Severe drought affects all the counties on Washington’s outer coast, including nearly all of Pacific and Grays Harbor counties.

Some 11% of Oregon and 5% of Idaho were in moderate drought, also unchanged from the prior week. California remained drought-free.

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