El Niño is a weather pattern that has to do with the westward-bound tradewinds in the Pacific Ocean weakening and pushing warm water against the western side of the Americas, per the National Ocean Service . When the opposite occurs, it’s called La Niña.
”Depending on its strength, El Nino can cause a range of impacts, such as increasing the risk of heavy rainfall and droughts in certain locations around the world,” said Michelle L’Heureux, who is a climate scientist at the Climate Prediction Center, per the National Weather Service .
“Climate change,” she said, “can exacerbate or mitigate certain impacts related to El Nino,” including breaking temperature records.
El Niño’s original name was “El Niño de la Navidad,” or “the little boy of Christmas,” because of its affinity to hitting around the Christmas season when winter begins, according to NOAA .
Is 2023 La Niña or El Niño?
While the past three winters were La Niña, according to Severe Weather Europe , the winter of 2023 is forecasted by NOAA to be an El Niño year. The weather pattern is anticipated to last until early spring.
This year’s expected El Niño has been in the works since at least June, when NOAA first reported on the build-up of El Niño making hurricanes in the central and eastern Pacific basins more likely.
“However,” the center said in the update, “a strong El Niño does not necessarily equate to strong impacts locally, with the odds of related climate anomalies often lower than the chances of El Niño itself.”
What does that mean for the U.S.?
In the past, previous El Niño patterns have caused more precipitation and colder temperatures than usual in California and along the southern part of the United States, while the north stays drier and warmer than usual, reported CNN .
For Utah, the season outlook predicts that the northwest portion of the state has a smaller chance — 33% to 44% — of a warmer winter than normal, with a normal prediction for precipitation and temperatures throughout the state.