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We have a strong El Niño

by RANDY MANN
| November 27, 2023 1:06 AM

November is coming to an end later this week and the precipitation figures for Coeur d’Alene and surrounding regions are better when compared to October. As of the weekend, there has been 3.08 inches of rain that has fallen at Cliff’s station. The November normal is 3.07 inches. At the Spokane International Airport, the moisture total for this month stands at 1.87 inches, which is below the monthly average of 2.06 inches.

In terms of snowfall, only 0.3 inches has been measured in Coeur d’Alene. Some of the other parts of the region, such as North Idaho College, did not see any measurable snowfall in November. However, in Spokane, 0.5 inches fell this month taking their seasonal total to 1.6 inches. The total for Coeur d’Alene is only 0.5 inches. In some of the higher mountains, snowfall totals are low with depths around 4-12 inches.

Most of the snow in November has been going to our east. In fact, parts of northern Texas have seen more snow than much of our region. Eventually, Cliff and I believe that the cold air that has been pouring into the central U.S. will eventually back up into the western U.S., even for a brief period. Assuming this occurs, we do expect to have some collisions of the colder air with Pacific moisture to bring some snow to North Idaho. It’s possible this pattern may develop prior to Christmas, but it may hold off until the start of 2024.

In the meantime, there is a chance we could see some snow in Coeur d’Alene and surrounding regions around the end of this week. Once these storms move to the east, the long-range computer models are pointing to warmer conditions across much of the Pacific Northwest.

For about the last six months, I’ve been talking about the developing El Niño sea-surface temperature pattern. As of late November, ocean waters along the equatorial regions are continuing to warm and forecasters who carefully watch the trends of ocean warming and cooling have indicated that we now have a strong El Niño in the south-central Pacific Ocean.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, El Niño is the abnormal warming of sea-surface temperatures near the West Coast of South America and along the equatorial Pacific. By contrast, a La Niña is the abnormal cooling of ocean waters. From 2020 through early 2023, we had a weak-to-moderate La Niña event.

The last time our planet had a strong El Niño was back in 2015-16. In November 2015, only 2.9 inches of snow fell in Coeur d’Alene. In 2016, there was no measurable snowfall in November. But, in December 2015, Coeur d’Alene picked up 37.2 inches of snow and December 2016 was also good for snow as 36.4 inches fell.

 According to the Climate Prediction Center, forecasters are indicating there is a 55% chance we’ll have a strong El Niño event into the spring of 2024, but likely peak early next year. They also state that the odds of a “historically strong” El Niño is about 35%. Therefore, it’s possible this current phenomenon could challenge the super-strong El Niños in 2015-16 and 1997-98.

In addition to the equatorial regions, ocean temperatures have been warming across most of the globe. We’re also seeing very warm waters across the northern Pacific Ocean and much of the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The Arctic regions have reported near-normal sea-surface temperatures over the last month, but there are indications this region may start to warm up as well. With so much warming of the Earth’s oceans, don’t be surprised to hear about global temperatures breaking more records.

El Niño has also changed weather patterns in the Southern Hemisphere as many locations in Australia have been turning drier over the last several months. Over the last three years, the continent has been dealing with flooding rains along the eastern shores. The country is on alert as this could also mean a rough fire season late this year and early 2024 during their summer season. In late 2019-20, at the end of a strong El Niño, Australia suffered through one of its worst fire seasons in history.

A new El Niño will often strengthen the sub-tropical jet stream. This could mean an increased chance of more flooding rains across the southern U.S. There is also the chance of above-normal rainfall in Southern California and the Desert Southwest during the winter season.

 The tropical storm and hurricane season will often have named storms near to below normal with an El Niño. During an average year, the number of named storms in this part of the world is 14. However, this season was a bit unusual as the total for the season is currently at 20. There were also seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes, including Hurricane Idalia that hit Florida as a Category 3 in late August.

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Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com.