Weather patterns are notoriously difficult to predict, but El Niño is one of the more complex patterns that can affect weather all over the world. Every year, weather forecasters brace their communities for different storm fronts, and El Niño remains one of the most pressing fronts to hit the California coast when it returns, on average, every two to seven years. It provides a long-term concern as well, lasting 9 to 12 months, depending on the season.

El Niño literally means “the little boy” or “Christ Child” in Spanish. It was originally recognized back in the 1600s, with the arrival of some unusually warm weather in the Pacific. El Niño effects usually bring a lot of climate change to North America during the winter months, with warmer weather over western Canada but wetter conditions in the United States, particularly in the Gulf Coast and Florida. The fronts can bring strong, unpredictable weather patterns which can effect the entire country.

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The last really strong El Niño season happened during the 1997 to 1998 winter, though there have been some less-strong El Niño weather patterns since then. A strong El Niño season comes with strong winds that put the sea levels much higher than normal. As that happens, colder water rises and it brings cooler temperatures and rain to the rest of the Pacific region. It can lead to heavy rains in the many parts of the United States, including the coastal regions and the southern part of the country from early fall through early spring, or usually October through March.

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There is also an opposite phenomenon, called La Niña, which is when the waters are unusually cool, instead of unusually warm. Both systems are part of the ENSO, or the El Niño Southern Oscillation, which can cause global changes and rainfall, particularly in any areas bordering the Pacific Ocean.

This all means that the weather patterns throughout early 2016 could be very unpredictable, with high levels of rain and even possible flooding, as seen during the difficult El Niño season of 1997. “El Niño has an 80 percent chance of lasting into early spring 2016,” explains the Weather Channel online. “The NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) also reported that there is a greater than 90 percent chance of El Niño lasting through the upcoming winter.”

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All of these weather warnings could mean the end of a particularly long drought season for California, but that won’t come without a price. That’s why it’s so important for you to prepare for any emergency weather issues that may arise. Talk to your family about communication plans, make an emergency kit for your home and car and make plans with the whole family for any flooding or other weather disasters that may pop up. You may never need the emergency plans you make, but if the worst should happen, you’ll be glad that you prepared for any situation that could arise.
 

Article by Deborah Flomberg.