(WGHP) – For the first time in four years, NOAA is forecasting a strong El Niño pattern for the 2023-2024 winter season.
For the last three years, we’ve been in a La Niña pattern which does not provide favorable conditions for snow lovers.
However, with a strong El Niño in the forecast heading into the next few months, snow lovers may be in luck!
Let’s dive into what a strong El Niño year means, and take a look at past strong El Niño winters in the Triad.
El Niño Winter
According to NOAA, a typical El Niño pattern brings cooler and wetter conditions to the majority of the South and Southeast while the Northwest is typically warmer and drier.
The strength of an El Niño winter is determined by how warm sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean are compared to normal.
When the spell of abnormally warm waters in the Pacific continues for seven consecutive months with the sea surface temperatures 0.5 degrees Celsius above normal, an El Niño pattern is in place.
Once sea surface temperatures reach 1.5 degrees Celsius above normal for seven or more consecutive months, a “strong” El Niño is considered to be in place.
There have been six strong El Niño winters in the Triad:
- December 1957 – February 1958
- December 1965 – February 1966
- December 1972 – February 1973
- December 1987 – February 1988
- December 1991 – February 1992
- December 2009 – February 2010
Snowfall at PTI Airport during strong El Niño winter
During those six El Niño winters, four of them recorded above-normal snowfall amounts at Piedmont Triad International Airport over the three-month period.
The strong El Niño winter of 1965-1966 was the most noteworthy of the six because a total of 26 inches of snow fell in the three-month period, nearly 20 inches above normal.
The one anomaly was the winter of 1991-1992 when only a trace of snowfall was observed from December through February. However, that winter was still noteworthy because we observed snow in November, earlier than our normal first snowfall of the season!
The last strong El Niño year we had in the Triad was winter 2009-2010 where we observed 14.6 inches of snow from December through February. The three-month period received nearly 9 inches more snowfall than normal.
Snow lovers have been deprived in recent years because it’s been nearly five years since we’ve seen a good amount of snow.
As of Nov. 13, it has been 1,800 days since we saw 4 or more inches of snow making it the third longest “big snow drought” on record.
The longest “big snow drought” lasted nearly seven years from March 1940 to February 1947.
Temperatures during a strong El Niño winter
Looking back at the average temperatures during strong El Niño winters, the typical pattern trends below normal. Of the six years, only one strong El Niño winter saw a slightly above-normal temperature average.
However, when broken down into single-month averages, it was a little different.
December in each of the six strong El Niño winters trended an above-normal average temperature, but that was not the case for both January and February averages. By the time we reached January and February of a strong El Niño year, the average temperature trended below normal.
Because the average temperatures of two of the three winter months are several degrees below normal, the overall winters were classified as below normal for five of the six strong El Niño winters.
Things look like they could take a turn for the cold by January, based on the climatology of strong El Niño winters, and maybe we’ll finally end our nearly five-year “big snow drought.”
The FOX8 Weather Team has put together their official forecasts for winter 2023-2024. Find out what each member of the weather team is predicting for this winter in the Triad.