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This winter's El Nino is projected to be strong

el nino sea surface temperature anomaly
Posted at 2:59 PM, Oct 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-05 12:03:27-04

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is now confident that El Nino conditions will continue through Winter, and likely last into Spring of 2024. Their current forecast shows over a 95% chance that El Nino will persist up to March 2024. And there is a 71% chance that this winter's El Nino conditions will be strong.

El Nino occurs when the sea surface temperatures in the Eastern Pacific Ocean are warmer than normal. The warmer the waters, the "stronger" the El Nino is.

The ocean and the atmosphere have a strong relationship, so a change in our ocean patterns can shift weather patterns as well.

Typically, La Nina and El Niño conditions peak in the winter months, and usually, U.S. weather patterns see the largest impact from El Niño Southern Oscilation (ENSO) in winter.

El Niño temperatures in the winter trend warmer than normal in the northern U.S. and trend cooler than normal in the southern U.S.

Precipitation tends to be wetter than normal for the western and southern U.S. and drier than normal for the north and eastern U.S.

And as per usual, Colorado is kind of stuck in between these patterns. Usually, our weather does not have a strong correlation to ENSO, but we can see some impacts. Breaking it down by region, southeastern Colorado has some notable weather trends during El Niño.

Based on analysis by the Climate Prediction Center, southeastern Colorado, and the Arkansas River basin see little impact from El Niño in the winter. But, we do trend cooler and wetter during the rest of the year. El Niño Spring, Summer, and Fall can be cooler and wetter than during neutral and La Nina conditions.

Snowfall amounts in southern Colorado during El Nino years are not black and white. Some years end up with below-average snow and some end up above average.

However, from the past ten El Ninos, the three "strong" El Nino years saw above-average snowfall. This year's El Nino is projected to be strong, and our region has a track record for more snow during these "strong" events.

As noted above, research shows that Fall and Spring show a better correlation to El Nino, which may mean that our snowfall will be above average in those seasons during this year's El Nino.


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