Latest El Nino Impacts for Central Alabama

Although an El Niño event is looking likely for the upcoming winter season, it is expected to be one of the weaker versions of the event in recent memory, according to experts with the National Climatic Data Center. This could weaken the potential impacts across the southern tier of states, where an “average” El Niño often brings above-average precipitation.

During an El Niño, sea surface temperatures in the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean rise to above average, causing storm tracks to shift to the south. This results in more frequent storm tracks across the Gulf of Mexico and along the northern gulf coast, which enhances winter rainfall for much of Alabama and the gulf coastal region.

Sea surface temperatures have hovered at slightly above average the past few months in the region where El Niño formation is measured, but have not reached the formal threshold yet. An area of cooler water in the north Pacific may be a factor. NOAA scientists say that although it is probably too late for a major El Nino event to develop, chances are still good for a weak one to occur.

The graph above shows forecasts made by dynamical and statistical models for sea surface temperature in the Niño 3.4 region for nine overlapping 3-month periods. Note that the expected skills of the models, based on historical performance, are not equal to one another. The skills also generally decrease as the lead time increases. So, what does this mean for Central Alabama? The latest 3 month precipitation outlook is still calling for above-normal rainfall chances across the area. This additional rainfall would help ease the long term drought conditions in eastern Alabama and generally would result in more moist soil conditions and higher stream flows as we head into the late winter and spring flood season. This would give the area better chances for river flooding early next year than what we have experienced the past few years.


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