(NEXSTAR) – El Niño is likely to take over soon — and odds are it will be sticking around for a long time, national forecasters said in an update Thursday.
While the Northern Hemisphere is still under “ENSO-neutral” conditions — meaning we are neither in an El Niño nor La Niña — that could change at any time. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center said there is about an 80% chance the transition to El Niño takes place between May and July.
Once it takes hold, El Niño is likely to strengthen into the fall and winter, when it normally peaks. The odds of it lasting until February of 2024 are upwards of 90%, the Climate Prediction Center said.
An El Niño winter would be a switch from what what we’ve seen the last three years, with back to back to back La Niña seasons.
El Niño typically brings cold, wet winter to the Southern U.S. A strong El Niño in particular is associated with lots of rain for the Southwest and California — though California already saw a cold, wet winter this year even without El Niño in control.
On the other hand, El Niño usually means a warm, dry winter for the Pacific Northwest, Ohio Valley, northern Rockies and parts of the Midwest. Hawaii also often sees below-average rain during an El Niño fall, winter and spring season.
While El Niño can strengthen hurricane season in the central and eastern Pacific, it tends to contribute to weaker hurricanes forming in the Atlantic basin.
Even a strong El Niño isn’t a guarantee those exact scenarios will play out, NOAA warns.
“‘Associated with’ doesn’t mean that all of these impacts happen during every El Niño episode. However, they happen more often during El Niño than you’d expect by chance, and many of them have occurred during many El Niño events,” the agency writes.
Whether we’re in a La Niña year, El Niño year, or neither is determined by sea surface temperatures near the equator over the Pacific Ocean. The temperature of the water and air above it can shift the position of the jet stream, which impacts the types of weather observed on land.
What does this all mean for Illinois?
WMBD Chief Meteorologist explained in Illinois, the impacts of El Niño really don’t materialize in the summer. However, Illinoisans could be indirectly impacted by what occurs in the tropics.
“With stronger westerly winds and increased shear over the tropics, El Niño tends to suppress tropical cyclone development,” Yates said. “This means we might have less of a chance of being impacted by the remnants of a tropical storm late in the summer.”
Yates said the impacts of El Niño are more noticeable in the winter months when Illinoisans see warmer and drier conditions on average.
Trent Ford, Illinois’ state climatologist, expressed similar thoughts.
“El Niño and La Niña have their strongest impact on Illinois in winter, and El Niño winters tend to be a bit drier and warmer,” Ford said.
Ford said he emphasizes “tend” because there is quite a bit of variability between El Niño years. He said the impacts during winter, though, also tend to be smaller in Illinois, which may be due to less energy usage because of warmer conditions overall, but no issues due to dryness.
Overall, Ford said El Niño does have its impacts here in Illinois, but they are not large.