NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center released an updated El Nino forecast this week that is in line with previous forecasts in recent months predicting that weather patterns driven by Pacific Ocean water temperatures will rival the strongest El Nino on record in 1997-1998.
Mike Halpert, deputy director of the agency’s Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Md., said Thursday that things haven’t changed much since a mid-September update.
“It is very similar. There are things that are right on track. There are things that are behaving and evolving in a way they were last month or even a couple of months ago,” Halpert said.
NOAA forecasts there will be a 95 percent chance that El Nino influences will continue through the coming winter and gradually weaken in the spring of 2016. El Nino is a climate influence that is primarily measured by Pacific Ocean water temperatures that are evaluated in several sectors of the ocean.
Halpert explained that “the region we hone in on” for North America is called El Nino 3.4, which encompasses the east-central equatorial Pacific. Water temperatures in that region this year are about 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit higher than historical averages, which is in the same range of conditions that prevailed in 1997-1998.
The characteristic influences of a strong El Nino pattern in the Pacific Northwest are warmer-than-average temperatures and below-average precipitation — conditions that existed over the past winter and spring, causing challenges for fisheries and hydro managers across the region.
But El Nino has tended to have different impacts elsewhere in the U.S. The Southwest, for instance, is expected to have cooler temperature and higher precipitation, compared to historic averages. In 1997-1998, California had precipitation that amounted to about 15 inches higher than historic averages, which would be a welcome change for many in that drought-stricken state.
The last time an El Nino pattern was identified was in 2009-2010. “It was quite dry,” Halpert said of the Pacific Northwest. “It was a very dry winter.”
The predicted influences of El Nino on the Columbia Basin and the Northern Rockies persist. “We have an enhanced chance of a warmer and drier winter,” Halpert said.
But NOAA is holding back on a more detailed forecast for winter temperatures and precipitation as a result of El Nino until a media teleconference that is scheduled for next week.
Halpert said gauging the broader expected influences of El Nino is within reach. “Does that mean we can see everything that can happen? And my answer is, of course not.”