El Niño is Here and it's Already Affecting South Carolina

Feb 15, 2019

Scientists at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center have officially declared an El Niño. It is a natural warming over the water in the eastern and/or Central Pacific Ocean that occurs every 2 to 7 years. The El Niño is expected to be weak and forecasters at the government agency say there's only slightly greater than an even bet that it will even last through the spring.

Explanation of changes in sea surface temperatures over the Pacific Ocean that lead to El Nino conditions.

El Niño can create alterations in the higher-altitude winds that drive seasonal weather patterns. We've already seen evidence of this in South Carolina this winter, where El Niño often produces wetter than average conditions.

Rainfall totals (as of February 14) compared to normal since December 1, 2018.

Listed to the left are several South Carolina cities that have experienced wet conditions since the start of December.

This is no surprise to State Climatologist Hope Mizzell, she explains.

“El Niño tends to increase our rainfall during late fall to early spring, with the strongest influence occurring December through February.”

The current El Niño is considered weak, which does matter according to Mizzell.

“Stronger El Nino's typically produce above average rainfall. Whereas during weaker events, such as what we're experiencing now, there can be a less consistent signal.”

NOAA seasonal precipitation forecast for the spring issued January 17, 2018.

The latest forecast from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) says the chances of average or wetter than average conditions are double than the chances of below average precipitation this spring.

NOAA seasonal precipitation forecast for the spring issued January 17, 2018.

El Niños affect on temperature in South Carolina during the spring can vary. The current forecast of warmer than normal temperatures for this upcoming spring is partially a result of warming climate trends that have been observed over the past several decades and the latest forecasts from several of the climate models.

The next update from NOAA on the conditions in the Pacific Ocean and resulting El Niño conditions across the globe will be released in Mid-March.