The El Nino weather phenomenon that began taking shape earlier this year could be one of the strongest in recorded history.
One climatologist calls it the “Godzilla” of all El Ninos, and the mental image that conjures is enough to make weather geeks shake in their rain boots.
“This definitely has the potential of being the Godzilla El Nino,” said climatologist Bill Patzert with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, according to Time.
He said satellite information shows that this El Nino could be more powerful than the record-breaking event of 1997-98, which at the time created the second-warmest and seventh-wettest winter in U.S. history.
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That big, bad El Nino in ’97 caused flooding in California and the Southeast, an ice storm in the northeast and tornadoes in Florida.
But what exactly will this year’s El Nino conjure for the Midwest this winter?
At this point, it doesn’t look like mayhem, unless you’re a believer in the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
In fact, a few days ago KSHB chief meteorologist Gary Lezak examined Kansas City snowfall amounts during the last five memorable El Nino years.
What he found: Kansas City received above-average snowfall during just two of those, and only by a few inches.
What is El Nino?
El Nino is a weather phenomenon that happens every two to seven years when winds shift and the water in the central Pacific Ocean along the equator becomes warmer than normal. The warmer the water, the stronger El Nino will grow.
This year, climate forecasters have already measured sea surface temperatures in the east-central Pacific Ocean that are more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.
Temperatures that warm have been recorded just three other times in the last 65 years, and each time they preceded big El Ninos.
So what is La Nina?
That’s what happens when the water in that area of the Pacific Ocean becomes cooler than normal. La Ninas usually set off more violent weather in North America, including tornado outbreaks.
What weather havoc will El Nino bring?
It depends on where you live, and every El Nino event is different.
El Nino usually creates a warmer, milder winter, with wetter than normal conditions in the Southern and Eastern parts of the country.
This year’s event could bring much-needed rain to drought-stricken California. But, “a big El Nino guarantees nothing,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center. “At this point, there’s no cause for rejoicing that El Nino is here to save the day.”
And though it helps stave off hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, El Nino brings more storms in the Pacific, which is why tropical cyclone activity there is already higher than normal, according to Halpert.
The rest of the planet suffers more during an El Nino. For instance, the 1997 event created conditions so dry in Indonesia that huge forest fires that broke out choked Singapore with smoke.
What about Kansas City?
So far, meteorologists are saying that this probably isn’t our party.
When the El Nino was announced earlier this year, meteorologists in Kansas, for instance, were quick to point out that they expected little effect on the Sunflower State’s weather.
And last week meteorologists with the National Weather Service in Kansas City told their Facebook followers that El Nino “has little to no effect on our weather during the spring, summer and fall months. However, it can, and has had an effect on our weather across the area during the winter months, especially during a strong El Nino.
“Historically, during a strong El Nino, winters have a well above normal chance of having above normal temperatures and a chance for above normal precipitation.”
AccuWeather expert long-range forecaster Paul Pastelok also told the media last week that “the Midwest could get an early shot of chill in the second or third week of September that can get cold enough to produce frost,” he added.
Why is this El Nino called Bruce Lee?
This year’s El Nino is so strong that someone with NOAA nicknamed it Bruce Lee after the late movie action hero, according to The Associated Press.
Does the El Nino forecast match the new winter forecast from the Old Farmer’s Almanac?
According to the almanac – whose forecasts are built around a secret formula – most of the United States will experience a harsh, cold and snowy winter.
“Just about everybody who gets snow will have a white Christmas in one capacity or another,” editor Janice Stillman told The Associated Press.
Meteorologists warn people to take the Almanac’s predictions with a grain of salt.
“The forecasters for the Old Farmer’s Almanac appear to be thumbing their noses at the usual winter impacts of a strong El Nino event, which favor a mild winter in the northern U.S. and abundant rain in California,” writes the Washington Post’s weather editor, Jason Samenow.