Strong El Niño Likely Means Above Average Temperatures | NBC Connecticut

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Strong El Niño Likely Means Above Average Temperatures

Snow prospects far from certain

(Published Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015)

One of the strongest El Niños on record is bringing marine life north out of the tropics, wowing scientists and people off the coast of California and Mexico.

Believe it or not, unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean can completely change the weather patterns around the globe.

But what does that mean for Connecticut? Ryan Hanrahan traveled to College Park, Maryland to get some answers.

Over the last year, the water in the tropical Pacific Ocean has been getting warmer and warmer.

Off the coast of California, tiny red crabs have shown up for the first time in more than two decades – pushed north by warming waters. This is El Niño.

While marine life may be the first to feel the impact, the rest of the country will soon. Mike Halpert is the deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center in Washington.

"When the ocean warms it shifts patterns with tropical rainfall, sea level pressure changes, winds change, the jet stream changes."

That change in the jet stream has a dramatic impact on the weather in the United States.

"It blocks cold air from coming into the country and it brings a lot of storminess into the west coast,” Halpert said.

El Niño’s impact is so great the federal government has an entire team dedicated to tracking its development and strength at the Center for Weather and Climate Prediction.

Buoys and satellites reveal that this El Niño is one of the strongest on record. Past powerful El Niño’s in 1997-1998 and 1982-1983 produced destructive storms in California, with flooding rain, coastal flooding and powerful winds. While El Niño’s impact on the west coast is more acute, a strong El Niño can have a big impact in Connecticut.

Paul Kocin is a meteorologist at the government's Weather Prediction Center who literally wrote the book on northeast snowstorms.

"Some of the dullest, wettest, non-snowiest winters have occurred during a strong El Niño when that is the main signal that's going on,” according to Kocin.

"I’ve had a long reputation for being kind of weather geeky... and there's a lot of other people like me."

Kocin's eyes are always looking for the next snowstorm. And we asked him how he thought this year's El Niño would impact the winter.

"Strong El Niños can give you a nice storm track along the south and if you've got some cold air, El Niño tends to go no I don't like that, you can get quite a snowy winter as well."

What seems like a good bet this winter is above normal temperatures.

"Since about 1950 there have been six events we consider strong. Temperatures in the northeast in New England have never been below normal. They've been normal or above."

But that doesn't mean you can't get a big snowstorm. The 1982-1983 winter featured a blockbuster snowstorm here in Connecticut.

"There were bowling balls of storms coming across the south. Too warm, too warm, too warm, too warm. One cold air mass comes down we get a big snowstorm. Then back to warm and it all melted."

While odds favor a warmer than average next few months thanks to El Niño, Mike Halpert says these long range predictions are anything but certain.

"There’s no question seasonal forecasting is very challenging. There's a reason why they're forecasted with probability. The forecast for tomorrow will say a high of 75. We won't and we can't say what the seasonal mean temperature will be.”

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