The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle — better known simply as El Niño — is quantified by the presence of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean, and was first identified by fishermen off the coast of South America as long ago as the 1600s; named after the Christ Child (translated from the Spanish to this, or The Little Boy) as it was, these warm water events tend to occur most frequently in December, and often last for a period of nine to 12 months.
Many climate scientists and meteorologists are already likening the expected 2015 El Niño to that which occurred in the late 1990s, and while Californians are hopeful that his arrival will bring an end to their blistering drought, we here at Vinyl Lite Window Factory are wondering:
How will El Niño affect northern Virginia this winter?
Well, the truth is… no one’s sure. Jason Samenow of the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang wrote of the last five El Niño events since 1950, “[the subsequent] winters either featured among the most paralyzing snowstorms in Washington, DC’s history or hardly any snow at all.”
Such extreme variation in the forecast can be, say area meteorologists, linked to the two primary, divergent, often complicated weather patterns linked to El Niño’s presence in the mid-Atlantic. That cranky little boy pushes the average position of the polar jet stream to the north, thus causing warmer winter air to fall over the region, while also amping up the moisture present along the southern jet stream, leading to increased volatility and an increased chance of a major winter storm.
With this unique combination of warmer air and tons more moisture, an untrained weather observer might read the words “an increased chance of a major winter storm” and see but one possible scenario play out. Could it happen? Sure. But Samenow and his Gang aren’t betting the [potentially snow covered] farm on it just yet.
“The combination of these two El Niño effects sometimes means [northern Virginia] gets flooded with mild air throughout the winter, favoring rain rather than snow when moisture-laden storms come along,” wrote Samenow. “But, at other times, just enough cold air hangs around for it to get hammered by a crippling snowstorm. (Whether there is sufficient cold air is often dependent on the state of the Arctic Oscillation).”
Will northern Virginia be in for a snow day of epic proportions this winter?
Only time will tell.