AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thursday brought the monthly update on the ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation) forecast from the Climate Prediction Center. This outlook helps explain the long term whether we are facing La Niña, ENSO Neutral or El Niño over the coming months.
The latest forecast looked to answer two big questions: 1. When will La Niña finally end after three consecutive winters. 2. When, if ever, will we make the switch to an El Niño weather pattern.
The ENSO pattern looks at the waters in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific Ocean. Warmer than normal water temperatures point to an El Niño pattern and cooler than normal waters points toward La Niña. The reason we care about ENSO so much? According to Tom Di Liberto, Climate Scientist at NOAA’s Climate.gov “that little change in the Pacific Ocean basically jumbles up the atmospheric circulation all across the tropics, which then is like the first domino that falls and it effects things like where the jet stream sets up across the mid-latitudes where we all live here in the United States.”
The fate of La Niña
Nothing is certain, but there’s very high probability La Niña finally wraps up this spring.
The latest ENSO probabilities chart (above) gives a roughly 73% chance that La Niña ends during the February-April period with an 82% probability that we’ll be in ENSO Neutral during March-May. So, while our third consecutive La Niña winter is locked in…changes look likely by spring.
Remember, La Niña typically causes a warmer and drier than normal winter for us here in Central Texas.
There would be a benefit of not being in La Niña during spring, by the way. As we’ve blogged about in the past, spring La Niña’s can bring more hail and tornadoes than normal to Central Texas.
El Niño pattern now most likely by late summer
Last month, we hinted that, for the first time since 2018-2019, a transition to El Niño was in the cards for next year.
The latest outlook backs up that theory with higher confidence. The odds of El Niño are greater than a Neutral or La Niña pattern beginning July-September and El Niño now looks “most likely” during August-October with greater than 50% odds for the first time.
Remember, in an El Niño pattern, the waters in the Eastern Equatorial Pacific are warmer than normal and that typically causes a wetter and cooler than normal winter for us here in Texas.
Given the long-lasting drought in Central Texas, a switch to El Niño would be beneficial.
Even a switch toward ENSO Neutral would, in theory, return us to a more typical pattern without the underlying impacts of La Niña drying us out and warming us up in the winter months.