Some of that, in my opinion, is sensational hype. After digging into past winters with strong El Niño’s, it doesn't sound so exciting.
El Niño is the warming of the water in the eastern Pacific near the equator. This warm water warms the air above and causes the southern branch of the jet stream to be stronger. This typically leads to wetter weather across the West Coast and Deep South, closest to the source.
The Deep South is usually cooler, mainly due to the extra cloud cover. The Deep South, known as the Sunbelt, is able to warm more due to this sun. With a little more cloud cover, it tends to be cooler during El Niño years, not due to Arctic outbreaks as some would suggest. We also hear more about mudslides and flooding issues in California and other parts of the South due to an increase in rainfall from the stronger southern jet stream.
Here in North Carolina, we have had five strong El Niños documented. Four out of five of these years we had below normal snowfall, but it was relatively close to normal (9 inches is normal). However, one of the winters we had 26 inches (1965-66). Due to this one big year, the average for El Niño years is 10.8 inches or above normal by nearly 2 inches.
Rainfall is above normal most years and temperatures are close to normal here in North Carolina.
Given the understanding of our weather in past strong El Niño years, I am forecasting the following:
- Temperatures: Near normal
- Precipitation: Above normal
- Snowfall: 10-12 inches (average for strong El Niño years is 10.8 inches)
- Ice Storms: 1 moderate -- That is our average and see no reason for it to be different due to El Niño.
Keep in mind we have had above normal snowfall in years with no El Niño and we have had below normal in many El Niño years too.
We typically get only two or three measurable snows (1 inch or greater) per winter. Just one big snow and we can easily exceed normal. There is no way to know for sure weeks, months in advance if we will actually get that big snow.