Be Prepared for this winter's El Niño - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

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Be Prepared for this winter's El Niño


You've no doubt heard about it in the news. A ‘super El Niño’ is set to impact our weather as we head into winter.

El Niño isn't so much a "thing" as it is a pattern.

Normally, trade winds in the equatorial Pacific blow from east to west. This process induces a phenomenon called "upwelling," where cool, nutrient-rich water is brought to the surface. This causes cooler sea surface temperatures.

But during an El Niño, those trade winds break down or even reverse. That cuts off the upwelling, allowing warmer water to pile up. This warms those sea surface temperatures.

This process has an impact on large scale weather patterns - the same ones that affect us in the Tennessee Valley.

What El Niño typically does is stream the Pacific jet into California and eventually into the southern U.S.

That can promote slightly cooler and wetter winter months for Alabama. And that's exactly what NOAA's official winter outlook calls for.

But it doesn't always work that way. We've had several strong El Niño events in recent history. 1973-73, 1982-83 and 1997-98 come to mind.

Temperatures were about normal, and precipitation was fairly normal too.

So, bottom line - what does El Niño mean for us?  

We could be a little cooler. We could be a little wetter. But there is certainly no guarantee of a wild winter ahead - or a mild one, for that matter.

And remember: Wetter doesn't necessarily mean snowier. We'll leave that hype for folks up north.

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