NOAA is forecasting / predicting ENSO neutral for winter 2019 / 2020. This will be the single most important factor when it comes to snowfall across North America this winter season. Major snowfalls and historic weather events, including Atmospheric River events, are often driven by El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). So what is El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)?
Note: Most of the information in this article is courtesy of climate.gov.
El Niño: A warming of the ocean surface, or above-average sea surface temperatures (SST), in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. Over Indonesia, rainfall tends to become reduced while rainfall increases over the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. The low-level surface winds, which normally blow from east to west along the equator (“easterly winds”), instead of weaken or, in some cases, start blowing the other direction (from west to east or “westerly winds”). In general, the warmer the ocean temperature anomalies, the stronger the El Niño (and vice-versa).
La Niña: A cooling of the ocean surface, or below-average sea surface temperatures (SST), in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. Over Indonesia, rainfall tends to increase while rainfall decreases over the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. The normal easterly winds along the equator become even stronger. In general, the cooler the ocean temperature anomalies, the stronger the La Niña (and vice-versa).
Neutral: Neither El Niño or La Niña. Often tropical Pacific SSTs are generally close to average. However, there are some instances when the ocean can look like it is in an El Niño or La Niña state, but the atmosphere is not playing along (or vice versa).
Typical winter impacts associated with ENSO neutral events. Colder probabilities are favored across north-central and northeast portions of the US, due to a polar jet stream shifted further south. Meanwhile, warmer probabilities are favored across the southern US, with above-normal precipitation favored across portions of the southeast US. Image courtesy of Ray Wolf, National Weather Service.
Typical late fall through early spring upper level jet stream positions associated with moderate to strong La Niña (left) and El Niño (right) events. During La Niña, a variable Pacific jet stream in association with a polar jet stream shifted further south favors below normal precipitation across the southern US, with below normal temperatures across the northern US. During El Niño, a strong and amplified Pacific jet stream extending across the southern US in association with a polar jet stream shifted further north into Canada favors above normal precipitation across the southern US, and above normal temperatures over the northern US. Based on original graphics from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.