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El Niño is back! How it will impact the weather in the Quad Cities

El Niño conditions are quickly developing and will significantly influence the upcoming winter season.

MOLINE, Ill. — It's official! An El Niño is currently in progress across the globe and is expected to intensify as we enter the upcoming winter 2023-2024 season.

What is an El Niño?

The phenomenon is characterized by warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean off the coast of South America. After experiencing a triple dip La Niña pattern the last three years, the shift will mark a noticeable change for the upcoming 2023-2024 winter season. 

When was the last time the U.S. experienced El Niño conditions?

The last time El Niño conditions were present was in 2018-2019. This particular El Niño was a weak one in strength. However, forecasters this year expect a rather robust El Niño to fully develop by the upcoming winter season. The last time we had a strong El Niño was in 2015-2016 and again in 1997-1998.

Is there a link to the sunspot cycle? 

Interestingly enough, there appears to be! Notice that our sunspot cycle maximums tend to occur during El Niño years.

Credit: NASA

Notice that cycle 24 correlates well with the last observed El Niño back in 2015 and 2016. We saw another sunspot activity minimum most recently in 2020-2023, with activity again picking up at the present time. 

What kind of impact can we expect on the overall weather pattern?

It really boils down to two things: where you live and the overall strength of the El Niño pattern. Areas across the southern US will likely experience above-average precipitation as an active subtropical jet migrates much further northward than normal, keeping the active storm track close by. 

Credit: WQAD
El Niño is known to have wide-reaching impacts on weather across the entire United States

Wave after wave of energy keeps the rain going and is usually extremely beneficial to drought-stricken areas of California. Meanwhile in the Midwest dry conditions and expanding drought are likely in parts of this region along with a small region in the pacific northwest.

How long will El Niño last?

From past observations, El Niño patterns typically last anywhere from 9-12 months at a time, while La Niña events are much longer, lasting more than a year, exactly like the one we just went through. What matters is the strength. The stronger the pattern, the longer it will stick around. That remains a bit of an unknown right now, which is why trying to forecast the impact on the upcoming winter season is a bit more challenging this far out.

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