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What El Niño Means for Your Weather Forecast

By Matt Donahue | Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

There has been a lot of talk recently on the West Coast about El Niño and its potential impact. Apart from a 1997 Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Chris Farley (do yourself a favor and look it up on YouTube), I realized I needed a refresher on what exactly El Niño is and what its potential impacts could be on regions across the U.S..

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), El Niño conditions occur when abnormally warm waters accumulate in tropical latitudes of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. Consequently, tropical rains that usually fall over Indonesia shift eastward. During El Niño winters, northwestern North America is more likely to experience warmer-than-average temperatures, and the southeastern U.S. is more likely to receive rain.
Of course, this should not be confused with La Niña.

La Niña conditions occur when cooler-than-average waters accumulate in the central and eastern tropical Pacific and tropical rains shift to the west. In the United States, seasonal precipitation impacts are generally opposite those of El Niño. Compared with El Niño conditions, La Niña conditions are generally more favorable for the formation of Atlantic hurricanes.

What does this mean for the U.S.?
El Niño Temperatures

El Niño does not solely control the day-to-day weather in the regions it impacts. However, it can contribute to either strengthening or weakening developing weather fronts. In the coming months, there is expected precipitation in Southern California, extending along the South coast. Temperatures are also expected to be warmer than average for most of the Northern parts of the country - a welcome gift for places like New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. that are currently buried in more than two feet of snow. In California - a state tortured with drought in recent years - rain might, at first, seem like a positive. It could, however, turn into a negative if conditions get too wet. Typically, drought conditions impact vegetation and other natural defenses that hold surface soil and sediment in place, meaning floods and landslides could develop with heavy rains.

Firms can prepare for these changing conditions by reviewing their business continuity plans and ensuring procedures are in place to evacuate offices and/or support remote work environments.

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