PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Off the Oregon coast the water is cold. But let’s head a few thousand miles south off the coast of South America where the ocean is warm, and this year, much warmer than normal. This is what we call El Nino.
Thanks, El Nino
This year the water is so warm, it’s being called a Godzilla or Super El Nino.
It’s being compared to the strongest El Nino ever recorded which was in 1997. That year, mudslides made a mess in California, tornadoes tore through Florida and the Southeast was socked with floodwaters. Only in the Midwest did people get off easy with a mild winter, a respite from the usual frigid cold and deep snow.
El Nino hits us hardest during the winter. Cold air from the arctic travels south where it collides with much warmer air from the tropics.
Where that collision is most intense is where the storm track sets up. So, during El Nino the warmer-than-normal water off the coast of South America helps shift the storm track.
It tends to divide in two with a colder “polar” storm track staying north over Canada. And a warmer wetter track shifting south (aimed at Southern California).
Here in the Pacific Northwest we are usually caught in the middle and spared the worst of it.
What does this mean for us?
While California gets the soaking rains and Canada gets cold winter storms, residents of Oregon and Washington end up with a fairly mild winter. That may sound nice, but it can cause a lot of problems in the mountains.
In an El Nino year, where arctic air may be hard to come by, our snow levels can end up being higher resulting a lower snowpack.
Though, it’s not always the case. And it doesn’t have to be super strong to bring major impacts.
Mt. Hood received very little snow during the 2004-2005 season, but it was a weak El Nino pattern that got the blame.
In 1982, the year of the last Super El Nino, Mt. Hood got almost twice as much snow as normal.
In other words, each El Nino has a unique personality.
What’s the bottom line?
El Nino has a bigger impact on temperature than it does on the amount of rain we receive. The outlook for 2015-2016 calls for warmer-than-normal temperatures and less low elevation snow. There’s only a slight chance of lower than normal rain.
But there is one wrench in this year’s El Nino: The Blob! Read about that in part two of this story on Tuesday.