Will El Niño bring heavy snow to NC?

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – It may not have been an incredibly hot summer in 2015. Hurricane season wasn’t too busy either.

But this winter’s weather could be different thanks to a strong El Niño.

The potential record-breaking El Niño started forming eight months ago. The waters of the Pacific Ocean has just started to warm and that gives our jet stream more energy and moisture.

A more active jet stream means the Mid-Atlantic will have more storms moving through the region.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean more snow.

“El Niño can only set the table for our winter. We actually have to have the atmosphere do the cooking to deliver our big snowfall chances,” said climatologist Corey Davis.

That cooking comes in the form of well-timed cold air. Without it, winter could just be cold and wet.

In 1997-98 the strongest El Niño ever recorded helped produce the wettest January in North Carolina and the fourth wettest February.

But only two inches of snow fell in the Triangle.

Out of the seven strongest El Niño’s since 1950, all but two resulted in higher than average snowfall totals.

The average snowfall total for the Trianlge during an El Niño year is seven inches. The total during a strong El Niño year is 11 inches.

Davis said the U.S. can look to Russia for what to expect during an El Niño event.

“The rate that snow builds up there during October can be a good sign of what that phase will be like as we get into winter,” Davis said.

That cold air phase is influenced by Siberian snow accumulation and is called the North Atlantic Oscillation.

And when it is in a certain position, North Carolina and the East Coast gets colder air from the north, but even that can’t guarantee more snow.

“Last year was one of the snowiest winters on record in Siberia and we ended up not seeing much of anything until the very end of last winter here,” Davis said.

This year, Siberian snowfall is normal to slightly above normal. That could mean more cold air down the East Coast.

Previously, El Niños in 1972 and 1982 had similar conditions in the global atmosphere.

The recent winter outlook says there will be wetter than average conditions with average temperatures.

“Just based on climatology, what we usually see in El Niño years, we would expect normal snowfall maybe slightly above that this year,” Davis said.

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