El Niño expected to warm up winter weather


Average snowfall in Ann Arbor, 2010-2014 graph




The last several winters in Michigan have been some of the most brutal that we have experienced in the last several decades. During the 2013-14 winter, Ann Arbor set its record with 97.1 inches of precipitation, which was much higher than its average of 57.3 inches, according to the Grand Rapids National Weather Service in 2014. That winter, Michiganders also felt the blast from a polar vortex that decided to hang out over the Great Lakes all winter long.

Winter 2014-2015, the polar vortex stayed for its second year in a row but didn’t bring as much snowfall in general, although it did punish the Northeast with a record-setting snowfall. This upcoming winter season, El Niño has yet again set its eyes on Michigan and the expected weather is going to be much different in comparison.

Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at Weather Underground out of Hartland, explains the process of El Niño and the effects it’ll have across the United States:

“El Niño is a natural pattern of ocean currents and atmospheric saturation over the tropical Pacific Ocean with a period of every 2-7 years that manifests itself as a splotching back and forth of above average temperature water,” Masters said. “What we have going on right now is the warm waters are all piled against the coast of South America and that’s called an El Niño”

He goes on to explain that in the winter, El Niño will typically bring the northern states record warm temperatures which results in cloudier and rainier weather to the south.

“California, the last time they had an El Niño this strong, they had about a half billion dollars in damage due to flooding,” Masters said.

According to Masters, a weather pattern such as this can usually last between six months to a year-and-a-half.

“This current event has been going on for about 10 months now and it’s going to last another five or six,” Masters said.

Students at WCC have mixed feelings on the fact that El Niño will bring above average temperatures.

“I feel like it would be better to have a warmer winter, but in the long run it might have some long-term effects on the environment. As far as Michigan goes though, I think we all hate our winters,” said Sarah Green, 18-year-old student from Ann Arbor.

Brenna Dirkse, 18, also from Ann Arbor, agrees with Green: “A warmer winter makes me really happy. I hate the snow.”

While some students are embracing the idea of a much milder winter, other students would rather welcome the snow as opposed to the more hazardous conditions of possible freezing rain because of warmer temperatures.

“I love my winters, so having it be in the 30s or 40s would not be good because you get the freezing rain instead of the snow,” said 18-year-old biological studies student Zayn Al-Zahid.

Al-Zahid’s prediction of this possibility, particularly during the cooler seasons, is supported by Masters.

“We typically, during a strong El Niño event in the winter, get a little bit above average precipitation that mainly comes in the form of rain because of the warm temperatures. This year is going to be the warmest year on record due to the extra bump that El Niño gives to the global temperatures,” Masters explained. “Last year was the warmest year on record, this year will beat that record, and next year is going to beat this year’s record.”




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