Strong El Nino winter: What kind of weather you can expect

El Nino years tend to be cooler and stormy for the South, drier and warmer for Northwest, and very wet for the West.

NOAA released its latest El Niño discussion, which showed a 95% chance of the phenomenon hanging on through winter and a 71% chance of it being strong. 

"El Niño is anticipated to continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter (with greater than 95% chance through January - March 2024," wrote NOAA scientists.

NOAA reports that the current state of El Niño is strong, with sea surface temperatures 1.6 degrees Celsius above average.


What is El Nino?

Warming sea surface temperatures in the central-east equatorial Pacific led to the formation of this El Niño climate pattern. The warming can have significant impacts on global weather

Some have dubbed El Niño to be the world’s ultimate "master weather-maker" as its influences impact everything from animal migrations to the number of billion-dollar disasters reported around the globe.

Due to a rare triple-dip La Niña event that began in 2020, the world hasn’t seen the impacts of an El Niño since 2019, and the last strong occurrence was back in 2015-16.

What will El Nino mean for your weather?


During strong El Niño events, the West has endured a colder and rainier winter. A greater than usual number of storms, one after another, punch through south and central western states, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. During the 2015-2016 winter, large amounts of rain fell along the coast, and snow piled up in the mountains.

"In California, historically some of the heaviest precipitation, and all of the largest flood years have been non-El Niño years," states the USGS website.


A larger number of more intense storms could trigger floods, landslides and coastal erosion. The storms could start as soon as October, according to the USGS.

Much of California is still cleaning up after a parade of atmospheric river-fueled storms brought record rain and snow during the past winter.

The Pacific Northwest has traditionally been drier and warmer during El Niño years. What would normally have been snow would be rain.

"These conditions tend to favor a thinner winter snowpack and subsequently less meltwater in the spring," wrote the USGS. "An El Niño can potentially create conditions for more severe flooding in the wetter winter months and possibly drier spring and summer months in the Pacific NW."


"In addition to the obvious effects El Niño can have on storms, floods and coastal hazards, it can also affect long-distance migratory birds, the snowpack in the mountains of the western U.S., fire seasons in Alaska and across the continental U.S., the health and distribution of oceanic and freshwater fish, and even very local environments such as the sediment and algae in the waters of San Francisco Bay," continued the USGS.

Southeast, Gulf Coast and Texas

The area from the mid-Atlantic states through Florida, then along the Gulf Coast, including much of Texas, is generally cooler and wetter. Northern storms generally track further south, producing more clouds, rain and severe weather, according to the NWS.

In strong El Niño years, data collected from 1950 to 2009 shows an average of 20 tornado events per year across the Tampa Bay, Melbourne and Miami areas of Florida, according to the NWS. That number is more than twice the average number.

The same areas found about 23 flood events per year during a strong El Nino year compared to under five in a neutral year.

"El Niño generally brings above-average precipitation to Florida during Fall-Winter-Spring, reduced risk of wildfires and higher risk of flooding, wrote the NWS. "Increased storminess across the southern U.S. increases the threat of severe weather in Florida during El Niño winters."

This could be a boon for Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The states are suffering through extreme and exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. In Texas alone, almost 44% of the state is in extreme drought and almost 20% is under exceptional drought.

Southern Mississippi had the driest August on record. The first half of September has only netted a half-inch of rain in some areas.

Northern tier of the US

The northern third of the country could see fewer Arctic blasts. The jet stream generally flows more west to east instead of north to south. You can think of the jet stream as the separation between cold and hot. For example, we had a ridge over Texas for much of the summer, which was responsible for record heat.


The warmer, dryer pattern usually means less ice cover for the Great Lakes, followed by warmer water temperatures the following summer, according to the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research

The Ohio Valley and Great Lakes have seen less snowfall and more rain during strong El Niño years, except for areas with lake-effect snow.

Northeast and New England

The East Coast could be in for a couple of good snowstorms. Snomageddon occurred during the 2009/2010 winter, an El Nino year. And 2016, New York also saw deep snow.

"What what typically happens is that since El Niño was really strengthening the Southern Jetstream, there's a lot more available moisture to storm systems," Jon Gottschalck, Operational Prediction Chief for the Climate Prediction Center told FOX Weather.

He said storm tracks in general are usually shifted to the south and east.

"So that makes intrusions of colder air, with the storms a little further off the coast, makes snow potentially more likely in some of the northeast into the mid-Atlantic," he continued." "Mainly for a couple, two or three big snowstorms that are that often are the case during strong El Niño events. We've seen that in the last event, plus 2009-10 as well." 


Hawaii tends to be wetter than normal through October. The islands are usually much drier than normal from November through July, according to AGI.


Alaska tends to be warmer and drier during El Niño.