As my colleague, Kenneth Kan, noted back in May in his blog post, Experts Predict a Strong El Niño This Year, climatologists have been predicting a stronger than normal El Niño for the 2015-2016 season. New data is suggesting the upcoming El Niño will be the strongest on record.
For those unfamiliar, “[a]n El Niño is an above average warming of ocean waters that form off California’s coast. This body of warm water in turn lowers the jet stream, so instead of pushing storms north and around California, the flatter jet stream sends storms straight through California resulting in an extremely wet and stormy winter.”1 To try and determine the severity of an upcoming El Niño, scientists look to the temperature of the Pacific Ocean. “[An El Niño] can be classified as “very strong” if surface waters are running at least 2 degrees Celsius warmer than average for at least three months in a row.”2
The previous record holder was the El Niño of 1997-1998, which “resulted in Southern California receiving about twice as much rain as in a normal year and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, an integral water source for the entire state, got about double the annual snowpack. But the 1997 El Niño also caused floods and mudslides throughout California and the stormy winter resulted in 17 deaths and $500 million in damages.”3
Dubbed Godzilla El Niño by the media, 2015-2016 is on track to break all records. “If this [El Niño] lives up to its potential, this thing can bring a lot of floods, mudslides and mayhem.”4 Additionally, despite the potential for significant rainfall in California, the continuing drought will still be an issue: “[O]ne El Niño winter will not make up for four years of drought. But it will be a good start in the right direction.”5
It’s not just California that will see the effects of this weather phenomenon:
In the West, a very strong El Niño would greatly increase the chances for torrential rain storms this winter…
On the East Coast, an epic El Niño could mean a very wet winter, but not necessarily a snowy one. Interestingly, El Niño increases the moisture supply in the eastern U.S., but it also tends to keep the polar jet — and all of its cold air — farther north. “The combination of these two El Niño effects sometimes means D.C. gets flooded with mild air throughout the winter, favoring rain rather than snow when moisture-laden storms come along…but, at other times, just enough cold air hangs around for it to get hammered by a crippling snowstorm.”6
While nothing is set in stone, and all of this is conjecture and prediction, I recommend that everyone take this opportunity to double check their insurance policies to make sure they have the appropriate coverages for what may lie ahead.
As always, I’ll leave you with a (mildly) related tune here’s Blue Oyster Cult with Godzilla: