Local Effects from El Niño Not Far Away

The 2015 El Niño is already the second strongest on record, and most meteorological modeling suggests the impacts are just weeks away. The weather phenomenon correlates strongly to a risk of heavy rain, an elevated threat of severe weather (including tornadoes), and sometimes dramatic temperatures swings. It may be hard to believe that all of these effects are connected to ocean temperatures thousands of miles away, but the data is undeniable.  The strength of this El Niño is nearly unprecedented, and it will influence our weather pattern well into 2016.



By some measures, this El Niño event is already historic. As of November 12, weekly temperature anomalies in “Niño 3.4” reached a record 3.0°C above normal. This is the region of the Pacific most-commonly used to quantify the oscillation over a larger time scale. To put this in context, the amount of energy generated by this increase in heat is equal to 75% of the energy consumed by the United States in a single year! This heat is then absorbed into the atmosphere where it can become fuel for storms thousands of miles away here in Florida.



It is very normal for frontal boundaries to push further and further south during the late fall and winter months. What makes El Niño years different, though, is the role the increase in atmospheric energy plays. The enhancement generally equates to higher precipitation rates and stronger thunderstorms along the fronts. Research done after the similarly-strong 1997 El Niño revealed that the greatest impact to Florida occurred during the months of December through February.  However, it should be noted that every El Niño is different and other weather patterns may heavily influence the forecast at times.





The official three-month winter outlook from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center calls for above normal precipitation across the entire WUFT listening area. Research from past El Niño winters in Pensacola suggests that rainfall totals are typically up to 40% greater than the December-February average of 9.38”.  This could equate to more than 13 inches of rain over the 90-day period. It is also presumed that there will be more cloudy days than normal, which could cause daytime temperatures to fall well short of normal (60’s).  These same clouds, however, may conversely keep nighttime temperatures above normal (40’s) at times. The probability of a severe thunderstorm event is highest during the early and latter weeks of winter, assuming storm systems will generally track to our south during the middle of the season.


The Florida Public Radio Emergency Network will be staffed throughout the winter to assist WUFT in alerting and informing you of any significant or potentially hazardous weather.  Now is a good time to set up your customized push notifications from our new mobile app, Florida Storms. It’s available on the iOS and Google Play stores today.

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Customized alerts and 36 hours of future radar via Florida Storms