Will Climate Change Drive El Niño to Bigger Weather Extremes This Winter?

Oct 12, 2023

Typical Winter El Niño Pattern in North America

El Niño is the cyclical climate pattern that impacts worldwide weather. This winter, its return could produce a wetter South and a drier and warmer North. It could also bring more snow in the mid-Atlantic and New England. The West Coast might see heavier storms, too.

The 2023 El Niño arrived in the Pacific Ocean in June. Because of climate change, its return coincided with a summer of record-breaking heat, droughts, flooding, and wildfires. Likewise, the 2023 El Niño may lead to more severe winter weather outcomes.

The effects of an El Niño increased by global warming are “like riding an escalator for decades (long-term warming) while jumping up and down.” Deke Arndt posted this statement on X (formerly Twitter). Arndt works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He's one of its directors.

Some climate experts are predicting a “super El Niño.” And it could be one of the most intense ever. It might possibly rival the one that occurred from 1997-98. That winter, California and Kenya were deluged with rain. Indonesia also suffered a severe drought.

Yes, it is hard to predict when and where such events may occur. But past El Niños can show what can happen. In 2018, for example, a weak El Niño played a part in several big winter storms. One storm put the southeastern US under a winter weather watch. It dumped 10 inches of snow in parts of Texas that rarely see more than a dusting. 

Still, some climatologists aren’t convinced that climate change will push the current El Niño to greater extremes this season.

“My answer would be —maybe." David DeWitt, NOAA Climate Prediction Center Director, told this to the Washington Post. 

Reflect: Why is it important to learn about weather patterns and how they might change in the future?

Which is one country that the infographic features? (Common Core RI.5.7; RI.6.7)
a. Canada
b. Kenya
c. New York
d. California
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