The latest forecast for El Niño is out, and it’s looking like we’ve seen the worst of it already. But as it fades, there’s something new coming up on the horizon. Are you ready for “anti-El Niño”?
In the forecast, NOAA said that while El Niño is still around for the moment, its days are numbered and it will probably be completely gone by this spring. The weather we’ll experience as it wraps up will likely be nowhere near as dramatic as in its earlier stages.
The data is still being argued over, but NOAA forecasters are describing this El Niño as “at least on par” with the El Niño of 1997-98, which is the strongest on record.
What happens as El Niño fades? The first thing we can expect is a brief neutral period during which we can all presumably catch our breath. After that, though, it looks like we’ve got more episodes of weird weather headed towards us.
La Niña—known alternately to NOAA as El Viejo or, more evocatively, “anti-El Niño”—is El Niño’s nemesis. While El Niño brings warmer sea surface temperatures, La Niña cools them down, meaning that what El Niño has done, La Niña often undoes. In the United States La Niña, is likely to make it cooler and wetter in the northern states and warmer and drier in the southern states. Just how it does that depends on when it shows up. If La Niña begins in the colder months, it’s likely to be much more noticeable than if it hits in the summer.
Right now, NOAA says there is a 50 percent chance that La Niña could show by the end of summer—if it hasn’t hit by then, though, the chances of it arriving in the winter surge up to 80 percent.
There’s more to what we’ll see during a La Niña then just when it shows up. The most important question, especially considering how incredibly powerful this El Niño was, is how big and strong the La Niña pattern also might be. There’s just no way to know for now. “We’re reasonably confident that we’ll see one, but plead ignorance on how strong it will be,” NOAA forecaster Huug van den Dool told Gizmodo.
Historical data doesn’t necessarily shed much more light on the question either, although van den Dool did note that the 1997-98 El Niño—which in a lot of ways seems to be the twin of this most recent one—was followed by an almost equally strong La Niña. Still, for the moment, the best we can say is that La Niña is probably coming—we’re just now sure yet quite what it will look like when it gets here.
Top image: El Niño sea surface anomaly map via NOAA