Weather Whys: What makes an El Nino pattern?

Weather Whys

We have been told since this summer that an El Nino Winter looks to be likely. Knowing whether we’re heading for an El Nino or a La Nina pattern is vitally important to every industry that exists in this country. With all this talk of an El Nino Winter, here’s a brief explanation of why it’s happening. 


Both El Nino and La Nina are determined by looking at the sea surfaces temperatures along the equator. El Nino is characterized by warmer than normal sea surface temperatures along the Pacific equator of a half a degree Celsius, that’s only 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal. La Nina is colder than normal by that same amount. 

When determining what phase we are in, there are 4 zones where the temperatures are monitored… Nino 3, 4,  3.4 – which is a combination of 3 and 4, more 3 than 4… and then there’s Nino 1 and 2. I wouldn’t get too caught up on the labels. The zone that has the most weight is Nino 3.4.

The warmth runs deep at just under a thousand feet below the surface. 

The warmer water is enough to change the pressure in these areas, storm development and trade wind strength.  This is enough to change our global patterns. Which is why here in North Dakota, that twi degree difference in the water 3,000 miles away could change our winter. 

Here in North Dakota, while the precipitation can be slightly lower than normal, it’s the temperatures that are much more noticeable.

We are under an El Nino Watch which means conditions are favorable for El Nino developement. But there has been a big warm up since the Watch was updated on November 9th. Don’t be surprised to see this Watch updated to an El Nino Advisory on the next update which will be December 13th. This would mean El Nino is being observed. 

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