WASHINGTON – Relief may be on the way for a weather-weary United States with the predicted warming of the central Pacific Ocean brewing this year that will likely change weather worldwide. But it won’t be for the better everywhere.
The warming, called an El Niño, is expected to lead to fewer Atlantic hurricanes and more rain next winter for drought-stricken California and Southern states, and even a milder winter for the nation’s frigid northern tier next year, meteorologists say.
While it could be good news to lessen the southwestern U.S. drought and shrink heating bills next winter in the far north, worldwide it can be quite a different story, said Ken Kunkel, an atmospheric sciences professor at North Carolina State University. Some areas benefit. Some don’t.
Globally, it can mean an even hotter year coming up and billions of dollars in losses for food crops.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an official El Niño watch Thursday. An El Niño is a warming of the central Pacific once every few years, from a combination of wind and waves in the tropics. It shakes up climate around the world, changing rain and temperature patterns.
Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, says the El Niño warming should develop by this summer but there are no guarantees. Though early signs are appearing a few hundred feet below the ocean surface, meteorologists say an El Niño started to brew in 2012 and then shut down suddenly and unexpectedly.
The flip side of El Niño is called a La Niña, which has a general cooling effect. It has been much more frequent than El Niños lately, with five La Niñas and two small-to-moderate El Niños in the past nine years.
The last big El Niño was 1997-1998.