Strong El Nino Forecast for 2015/16 North American Winter:

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The IRI tweeted today that they are forecasting a STRONG El Nino for 2015/16 winter.
The IRI tweeted today that they are forecasting a STRONG El Nino for 2015/16 winter.

The International Research Institute of Climate Sociology (IRI) based at Colombia University, NY released their latest El Nino update today and they are calling for a strong El Nino for winter 2015/16.

That IRI El Nino update states two important things:

  1. A weak to moderate El Nino is currently occurring will continue until July, 2015
  2. A moderate to strong El Nino will develop this summer and continue into 2016
Graph the 5 El Ninos on record in California showing 4 of 5 with above average precipitation in California.
Graph the 5 El Ninos on record in California showing 4 of 5 with above average precipitation in California.

We only have 5 strong El Ninos on record in Northern California and 4 out of 5 of them delivered above average precipitation in California.  Once El Nino cools down to a moderate or weak El Nino, Northern California’s records show about as much below average precipitation as above average precipitation.  NOAA even has a 4 minute video explaining to us that El Nino in California does not equal above average precipitation.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 9.37.12 PM
NOAA image


El Niño and La Niña events tend to develop April – June and they:

  • Tend to reach their maximum strength during Dec-Feb
  • Typically persist for 9-12 months, though occasionally persisting for up to 2 years
  • Typically recur every 2 to 7 years
California and the American West from space.
California and the American West from space.

What Does El Nino Mean for the 2015/16 Californian Winter?

Looking at historical data, an El Nino in California is actually about 50-50.  Around half of the recorded El Ninos resulted in above average precipitation in California and about half of the El Ninos resulted in below average precipitation.  That said, the strong El Ninos of 1982/83 and 1997/98 were hugely above average winters for California.

Being realistic, we have to understand that a strong El Nino doesn’t mean that California is guaranteed to come rip roaring out of their current historic drought.

CA's historic drought.
CA’s historic drought.

Let’s not forget that NOAA and more agencies forecasted a Strong El Nino for North America for this 2014/15 winter and El Nino didn’t even show up until March 2015 and it was a weak, not strong, El Nino.  Furthermore, 2014/15 was one of the worst snow years on record in North America and was the worst snowfall year on record in California.

The one thing forecasters do have going for them is that this year, El Nino is already occurring.

“The difference is that this year an El Nino is already in place, with both ocean and atmosphere participating in the coupled climate phenomenon.” –  Tony Barnston, IRI’s Chief Forecaster

El Nino
El Nino

Reality also tells us that it is simply way too early to put too much confidence in this forecast for a moderate to strong El Nino in the 2015/16.  It’s only May and we’re talking about forecasting the weather 6 months from now in December/January…

“Predicting a strong El Nino is certainly exciting and favorable, however, I strongly believe it’s way too early to forecast such extreme weather.” – Roberta Gonzales, KPIX 5 meteorologist

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 10.10.35 PM

Here is exactly what the IRI said about the current El Nino and its forecast:

note:  the word “strong” is never used in any of the IRI’s El Nino update information today

“During late April through mid-May 2015 the SST was at a weak to moderate Niño level. The atmospheric variables also indicate an El Niño pattern, including weakened trade winds, low Southern Oscillation Index and excess rainfall in the central tropical Pacific. The consensus of ENSO prediction models indicate weak to moderate El Niño conditions during the May-July 2015 season in progress, likely strengthening during summer and lasting through 2015.” – IRI

IRI Infographs from today’s El Nino Update:

  • Figure 1

  • Figure 3

  • Figure 2

  • Figure 4

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7 thoughts on “Strong El Nino Forecast for 2015/16 North American Winter:

  1. Living in eastern Arizona ee normally receive 14 inches of snow in a good year. The past few years have had little snow, last year no snow. Living in the White Mountains we are use to a good snow. In May if 1978 my records show we had 17 inches of snow the third week of May on the ground, what happened??

    Why isn’t the winter of 1977-78 mentioned.

  2. Very interesting and information related very well. I understood the dynamics of El Niño and how it works in relation to oceans etc. I will be reading your information as much as possible so that I can stay informed.
    Thank you

  3. I’d not worry about El Nino since we are in a cold phase & El Nino’s react totally differently than in a warm phase like the one 1980-2010. I’d not be surprised if it fades quickly late summer or early fall.
    Earth is cooling very quickly. Winters to come will be colder. We aren’t just in a 30 year cold patter but also in another pattern not seen since early 1800s which was cold so expect more ice to break off the arctic as more new snow & ice cause pressure. It’s increased 30% in 2 years while Antarctica is at record highs. By 2018, the arctic will blow minds when pics from Space come back showing massive ice and snow like never seen but the same old man-made graphs will be teaching kids or college students global warming so that will start to collide when real facts meet up with propaganda. All one has to do most winters now is stick their head outside to know it’s not getting warmer, the arctic never melted in summers like predicted and all is well other than a coming food shortage from some seriously cold winters to come like no one alive has ever seen.

    Nice to see NASA scientists catching up with me on this and agreeing it’s been getting colder vs what BS is going around in colleges or media etc.

    Forget the El Nino. Not going to happen anymore than the one predicted for last winter.

      1. No that person doesn’t live there but knows climatology lively better than any scientist in USA.

      2. you live in a desert. that’s why there is very little to no rain!!! the climate hasn’t changed at all. sorry!!! when mexico had the land and they stole it from spain. people never lived in the there because it wasn’t desert and way to hot

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