Could we see a new El Nino later this year?

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For many years, we’ve been talking about the fluctuation of sea-surface temperatures and their influence over global weather patterns. In early 2016, we were coming out of one of the strongest El Ninos, the abnormal warming of sea-surface temperatures, in recorded history.

This warm water phenomenon often leads to below normal snowfall seasons across the Inland Empire. For the 2015-16 season, Coeur d’Alene only received 56.2 inches. The bulk of that total came in December of 2015 as Cliff measured 37.2 inches. During El Nino patterns, especially strong ones, our region has seen big snows in December, but very little snowfall in the following months.

Then, we had a weak La Nina develop last November that was a least partially responsible for the snowy and frigid conditions in Coeur d’Alene and other towns and cities in the Inland Northwest. As of Sunday afternoon, our total snowfall for the 2016-17 season was around 95 inches. Our normal seasonal snowfall is 69.8 inches.

In addition to the very cold and snowy weather, a series of powerful storms, some of the biggest since the 1980s, slammed into California creating widespread flooding. Parts of Interstate 5, which runs north and south through the state, was flooded. Several of our clients in the San Joaquin Valley of central California are telling us that their farmland was literally “underwater.” They were using sandbags to hold the water back.

In Southern California, strong storms have also created mudslides and flooding. Many stations across the Golden State are more than twice their normal precipitation. California’s drought now covers only 17 percent of the state, compared to 73 percent prior to the big rains.

In early February, it was announced that La Nina had completely dissipated and we now are in a “La Nada,” the in-between cooler La Nina and warmer El Nino sea-surface temperature event in the waters of the south-central Pacific Ocean.

According to the climate scientists, the La Nina was one of the weakest and shortest on record. However, despite the weak event, parts of the Northern Hemisphere experienced some of the coldest, and in some cases, snowiest winter in many years. Other areas of the world had snow and cold temperatures as well. Taiwan reported record lows in early February. Heavy snows and frigid temperatures were reported throughout Asia, Europe and North America this winter season.

La Nina is gone as ocean temperatures have continued to warm to above normal levels in some areas along the Equatorial regions. There are now only a few isolated patches of cooler waters near the Equator as the warmer waters are starting to dominate.

In fact, ocean waters right along the West Coast of South America, the area scientists watch to determine La Nina and El Nino events, are continuing to get warmer with readings climbing to more than several degrees above average levels just within the past few weeks.

For this reason, many are speculating for the return of the warmer El Nino as early as the spring season. Some climate scientists say that it’s about a 50/50 chance for a new, warmer El Nino pattern by the summer season. If this occurs, then we expect to see less snowfall in our region for the 2017-18 season.

No one is certain as to why we’re seeing rapid warming and cooling of oceans. Back in the 20th century, it would often take many years to go from an El Nino to La Nina event, or vice-versa. Recently, it’s taking only months to see the rapid change in ocean temperatures. As the oceans climb in temperature, don’t be surprised to hear about more record warmth for Planet Earth later this year, despite the frigid start to 2017.

In terms of our local weather, February was another record-breaker for precipitation. Cliff has measured around 7.40 inches for this month. The old record was 6.49 inches set back in 1940. The average for rain and melted snow for this month is 2.17 inches. And, October of 2016 was a big month for moisture as 8.88 inches fell compared to the normal of 2.22 inches.

March will get off to a chilly start with some snow, but we see milder temperatures with some rain by next week. Don’t be surprised to hear about more flooding problems as we still have lots of snow in the mountains as some of our local ski resorts are reporting bases of over 100 inches.

I wouldn’t take off those snowtires yet. There’s a chance of more snow in our region through at least the end of March. Cliff and I think there’s a good chance that Coeur d’Alene will top to 100-inch mark for snowfall this season. That would be the fourth time in less than 10 years. Wow!

Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com

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