Winter Weather

This year's El Nino will likely bring warmer and drier than average weather to Wisconsin this winter.

Q: How did El Niño get it’s name?

A: The climate pattern formed by warmer water in the Pacific Ocean known as El Niño, which is Spanish for “little boy,” was named centuries ago by South American fishermen who would notice the higher temperatures around Christmas, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Climate scientists last week predicted temperatures will be warmer across the U.S. this winter because of the El Niño forming. Wisconsin and some other northern states will have a drier winter while the southern third of the country will be wetter than normal.

The warm water alters jet stream patterns in a predictable way, so scientists are able to predict general patterns for the winter.

Surface water in the Pacific Ocean can also be cooler than normal. Scientists identified this pattern and its effects in the 1980s, and dubbed it La Niña, meaning “little girl” in Spanish. La Niña produces almost opposite effects across the U.S.

El Niño and La Niña can vary in their strength, which affects how strongly the weather patterns are changed.

Between El Niño and La Niña patterns, surface water in the Pacific Ocean can be closer to its long-term average.

These climate changes shift back and forth irregularly every two to seven years.

— Shelley K. Mesch

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Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.