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Don’t Count El Niño out Just Yet

el nino

KUSA – More spring snow? A dry summer? All are potential scenarios that climate scientists say El Niño could bring to Colorado.

“The thing to remember is that El Niño is not over,” said Josh Willis, a climate scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab.

The El Niño phenomenon is a warming of the Pacific waters, which can have an effect on weather patterns. NASA climate scientists have been tracking it through a series of satellite missions since the 1990s.

“NASA studies these phenomena from space and we have this really amazing satellite called the ‘Jason’ missions, which tell us how tall the ocean is,” Willis said. “And a lot of the signal, in terms of the El Niño, is really captured by watching heat move around in the ocean – and that’s what these satellites measure with exceptional accuracy.”

The warming of the Pacific waters began last year and this El Niño is considered among the stronger ones, like an El Niño measured in 1997 and 1998. Scientists are puzzled, though. Unlike the one in the late 90s, the current El Niño has not brought a lot of the added moisture it was expected to bring to parts of the West.

“This year’s has peaked so late in the year, we’re still waiting for a lot of those rains,” Willis said. “So far, we haven’t seen that – a lot of it has been in drought and so if it remains dry, we could have a pretty scorching summer and a lot of fire danger in our future.”

Yet, El Niño isn’t the only thing that can affect Colorado weather.

“Not everything is El Niño. We do have to remember there are weather patterns in the Arctic [that] push cold air out of the Arctic and bring warm air up from the tropics,” Willis said. “This El Niño is fading right now, as we speak, but it’s still there and it’s still kicking.”

Forecasters said, though, don’t count El Niño out just yet.

“As we head into March and April, it does look like the odds favor significantly more precipitation both of those months and potentially another heavy snowfall,” David Barjenbruch with the National Weather Service in Boulder told 9NEWS.

NASA says the current El Niño will stick around through April and possibly even May. What happens after that isn’t clear, but they offered up two potential scenarios. It could change into a La Niña, which is a cooling of waters in the western Pacific or we could see another El Niño emerge. They have seen back to back El Niños before, so there is precedent for that.


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