As El Nino Fades, La Nina Watch Issued

April 18, 2016

Next winter could be cold across the northern U.S. as odds increase that a La Nina will replace the fading El Nino in the Pacific Ocean.

A La Nina watch was issued Thursday as the warming across the equatorial Pacific’s surface began to fade and cold water started building in its depths, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center said. There is a 60 percent chance the La Nina could occur from July to September and a 70 percent chance there will be one in the winter. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology issued a watch on Tuesday.

“These are definitely not a guarantee but they are high enough that we decided to go ahead and issue the watch so folks are aware,” said Michelle L’Heureux, a forecaster with the climate center in College Park, Maryland. “The fact is, we are already starting to see some real strong changes in the ocean.”

La Ninas occur when the surface of the Pacific cools, bringing on an atmospheric reaction that can upset global weather patterns and move commodity and energy markets. In addition to helping cause colder winters across the northern U.S., the phenomenon also has meant heavier monsoons in India as well as more rain across parts of Indonesia, Australia and Brazil.

Rainfall Patterns

The Indian Meteorological Department predicts this year’s rainy season will be above average for the first time since 2013. The opposite would probably happen across the southern U.S., as La Ninas can make that region drier and warmer.

La Ninas could also mean less wind shear across the Atlantic, which may allow more hurricanes to form.

L’Heureux said the layer of warm water that marked this year’s El Nino has begun to fall apart.

“It is really becoming quite thin and degrading rapidly,” she said. “The subsurface temperatures are really cooling off.”

The latest El Nino contributed to a record warm winter in the 48 contiguous U.S. states, a drought across many Pacific islands and fires in Indonesia.

While the El Nino that is fading was one of the strongest ever, that doesn’t mean there will be a long wait for the Pacific to cool, L’Heureux said.

“The thing with strong El Ninos is if they transition, they transition pretty quickly,” L’Heureux said. “If a La Nina were to form, it would be pretty quick.”

(With assistance from Pratik Parija and Phoebe Sedgman.)

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