Although there is no rain in the immediate weather forecasts, El Niño is still very much in force.
A University of Arizona climate group’s website explains this periodic weather phenomenon and its effects on the Southwest.
After a couple of strong rain storms the first week of January and blue skies this week, you may be wondering if El Niño has petered out. Absolutely not, say the climate experts. It’s a matter of where the jet stream is pushing the storms.
“I have no reason not to expect that at times over the next eight weeks we will see the jet (stream) shift further south, and we’ll see more storminess back into the more traditional areas across the southern part” of the country, said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate prediction center.
Halpert said the current El Niño has matched the 1997-98 event as the largest in the historical record. It is possible by the end of winter, this year’s could be at the top of the list.
Researchers at the University of Arizona’s Climate Assessment for the Southwest, or CLIMAS, develop and distribute climate information in addition to conducting climate research. The project was formed after the last big El Niño event in 1997 - 1998. The new website is a one-stop location for El Niño information focused on the Southwest.
“The main idea behind the website is that we recognized there was a lot of interest in what was going on in El Niño and we wanted to pull together stories and maps and other information that would help people have a better sense of what it meant to have El Niño in the Southwest,” said Ben McMahan, a research outreach and assessment specialist.
McMahan said the team is aggregating information from a variety of sources, and creating locally focused content including podcasts of the staff members talking about relevant topics. The site also takes a look back at past El Niño events and information about what to expect during an El Niño season.
Mike Crimmins, a climate science extension specialist with CLIMAS, said it is a challenge to communicate about a slowly evolving phenomenon like El Niño.
“It’s really a seasonal climate phenomenon that’s going to play out in weather events. Weather events will be weather events. There will be a run of wet days and maybe weeks, and then there will be dry periods,” Crimmins said.
Using a football metaphor, Crimmins said, “I like to think of this as the first quarter of El Niño. February, March and April are big months for El Niño events. Even if the rest of this month dries out, the climate forecasts are still suggesting busy February and March periods.”
The Arizona Science Desk is a collaboration of public broadcasting entities in the state, including Arizona Public Media.