Alaska has a 50/50 chance of seeing an El Niño Winter

Nov 13, 2014

There's a 58 percent chance that Alaska could experience an El Niño winter but Southeast will see the biggest difference.

Alaska is definitely seeing some strange weather.  Super typhoon Nuri warmed up parts of Alaska while forcing cold winds to really hit the Midwest.  There’s a chance that Alaska could see another bout of warm winter weather. KDLG’s Thea Card reports.

El Niño refers to the occurrence of warmer than normal ocean surface temperatures in the equatorial central Pacific Ocean, in other words in the waters south of Hawaii.  These waters then influence where big thunderstorms form which in turn influence jet streams at middle and higher latitudes.

Credit NOAA

Climate science and services manager at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Rick Thoman says he’s constantly asked how something 1500 miles south of Hawaii can have any effect on Alaska?

“And the answer is that those big tropical thunderstorms, they’re very persistent, they extend way high into the atmosphere, and they transport lots and lots of that tropical moisture into the high atmosphere and as that spirals away into the equator it impacts the jet stream at higher latitudes and from its modifications the jet stream that’s how it ends up influencing Alaska and much of North America’s weather.”

However, this has nothing to do with our current warm weather.  Although Super typhoon Nuri did involve a storm being transported by jet streams…

“But that is completely unrelated to El Niño .”

Thoman says NOAA’s Climate prediction Center is calculating a 58 percent chance that an El Niño will form and if it does it will be weak. In the past 30 years, weak El Niño events make Alaska warmer than normal but only significantly so in Southeast Alaska and the Gulf coast.

However, Thoman says usually El Niño events would have started already.

“There have only been a handful of El Nino’s that have started this late in our winter season so if it’s going to happen it has to happen real soon.”

With or without El Niño , one thing is clear about the weather in Bristol Bay—it’s warmer and wetter and looks like it will remain that way throughout the weekend. In Dillingham, I’m Thea Card.