July 20, 2024

The Lake Tribune

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The Winter That Wasn’t: Super El Niño Drives Near-Record Warmth Across the US

2 min read

EL NINO Pattern (Photo By Weather Nation TV)

United States (The Lake Tribune) – This past winter season, spanning from December to February has challenged traditional perceptions of cold and snow across the northern United States. Marked by near-record warmth, the season’s mild conditions are attributed to a phenomenon known as a “Super El Niño,” which saw sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean rise to a three-month average of 2.0 degrees Celsius above the historical norm.

Despite a brief intrusion of the polar vortex in mid-January, which brought a short-lived cold spell, the overarching warmth prevailed, leading to reduced snowfall and the rapid melting of what little snow accumulated. This scenario is characteristic of a strong El Niño, which influences the jet stream and, consequently, weather patterns across North America.

The Super El Niño event, a rarity in the climatological record dating back to 1950, facilitated above-normal temperatures by altering the jet stream’s path. This weather pattern essentially kept the colder, Arctic air at bay, either closer to the North Pole or diverted toward Europe or Asia. Meanwhile, the southern United States experienced an active storm track, leading to above-normal precipitation but moderate temperatures due to the moisture in the air.

The impact was felt widely, with the majority of the Midwest experiencing one of the top five warmest winters on record. Notably, all climate districts in Wisconsin recorded their warmest winter to date. This warm trend extended into most of the Northeast US, challenging historical snowfall patterns and reducing or eliminating drought conditions across the southern tier of the country.

Places known for their significant snowfall, such as Minneapolis, Minnesota, saw dramatically lower totals, with the city nearly setting a record for the lowest snowfall before a late-season burst. The Great Lakes region, typically a hotspot for lake-effect snow, also experienced diminished snowfall due to the lack of cold air.

Interestingly, this warmer and more active weather pattern did not spare the region from early severe weather events, including unusual winter tornadoes stretching from northern Illinois to central Ohio. This deviation from the norm underscores the complex impacts of a Super El Niño on winter weather, extending beyond simple temperature anomalies.

As this winter season closes, the data underscores the profound influence of El Niño on weather patterns, challenging the norms of winter weather across the United States. The Super El Niño of this past season not only disrupted traditional cold and snowy conditions but also reshaped expectations for future winters under similar climatic influences.

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