El Niño & La Niña: What they Mean in East Texas

El Niño & La Niña: What they Mean in East Texas

            I am sure many of you like I, have been watching the weather channel and heard them state that the weather was being caused by either El Niño or La Niña. Each time I heard this I eagerly waited for them to explain what they meant, but they never did. Well, I thought it might be time to clear up what these two weather patterns really are and what they mean for us here in East Texas. Especially since the weather channels are now reporting a break in the recent La Niña.

El Niño is a name for the unusual warming of the ocean’s surface, which occurs every 2 to 7 years along the equator in the central and eastern Pacific. During a strong El Niño, surface temperatures can rise as much as 15°F greater than normal over an immense area. The addition of this heat and humidity source to the global atmospheric circulation is known to disrupt weather and climate patterns in regions around the world. *It is important to note that this heating up places humidity into the atmosphere.

The same region of the Pacific Ocean can also turn colder than normal, though not quite as extreme as an El Niño event. These periods of colder than normal sea surface temperatures are known as La Niña and occur as often as the better-known El Niño. Because La Niña has a near opposite development than its counterpart El Niño, it also has a near opposite effect on weather patterns. We are not always in an El Niño or La Niña climate event and those off years are referred to as Neutral years. Neutral is the term for when neither El Niño nor La Niña are present in the Pacific. The majority – about half – of all years are classified as neutral years.

So, what does this all mean for us in East Texas? Well, it is complicated. As you may have gathered, El Niño will move North pushing humidity along the way until it reaches the U.S. West coast and eventually finding its way into Texas. While this will bring rain and cooler temperatures, it is hard to pinpoint when and how much it will bring. Another issue is that some months may be dryer, yes dryer than normal during an El Niño climate event. However, the emphasis is on the fact that it does bring in rain. If you think back to the years of 2015 to 2017, those were the last years that at least saw parts of an El Niño pattern. Developing seemingly right after El Niño in 2017, was a La Niña pattern. Looking at the national weather maps and even some more locally, you can see the dryness and higher temperatures that La Niña has brought. While the effects may be very small here in Nacogdoches as of the moment, our fellow producers in the Panhandle and bordering West states are certainly feeling the effects of La Niña.

This morning (6/4/18) while watching some good ol’ RFD-TV weather, it was mentioned that an observed “break” of La Niña had happened in the Pacific. While it may still be some ways off from us, we can at least look to the future and hope for improved weather conditions for our pastures, ponds, and lawns.

For more information contact the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service at (936) 560-7711 or visit our website at http://nacogdoches.agrilife.org.

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