WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

El Nino: Gold, Silver, Bronze or Tin?

Posted February 9, 2010

Climate Prediction Center outlook for temperature versus normal for February 2010.

Ever since it became apparent last year that a moderate to possibly strong El Nino pattern was developing in the Pacific, one of the concerns centered on the fact that the next Winter Olympics were scheduled for Vancouver this month. While El Nino impacts can be quite variable from episode to episode, one of the primary correlations affecting North America is a large area of typically above-normal temperatures for the U.S. Pacific Northwest and western Canada. That same area tends to lean toward slightly below normal precipitation as well, though that is a less robust relationship.

So far, it appears the pattern has indeed favored warmth, so that while there has been some precipitation in the Vancouver area, it has leaned heavily toward rain, even on some of the surrounding mountains where organizers are having to work very hard (storing snow under tarps, trucking in snow from about 90 miles away, and so on) to make conditions workable on the venues near the city. Just as an example, in January Vancouver recorded rain on 26 days, and snow on none, while so far in February they've had 6 days with rain and none with snow, and temperatures have definitely leaned to the warm side of normal.  As a comparison, back in 2008, snow was recorded on 10 days in January and rain on 19.

Alpine events are being held at a higher elevation a little farther north, and so far reports are that the situation is not as difficult there, although they aren't totally in the clear either. A station near that site has had 20 days with rain in January and February so far, with 6 days of snow in January and none this month. The attached monthly outlooks for February from the Climate Prediction Center track pretty closely with the typical effects of El Nino, and you can see that while the southeastern U.S. is leaning toward below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation, things look very different for the diagonally opposite end of the country. It will be interesting to see how much, if any, the outdoor games are impacted by the temperatures and precipitation-type issues in the next couple of weeks. Of course, the planners and organizers have had a long time to prepare to try and out-duel El Nino's effects, and they have dealt with some similar disruptions at previous Games, so hopefully it will all work out...


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  • Mike Moss Feb 16, 2010

    hp277, I'll plan to address how this year stacks up on the "cold-o-meter" in a post here once we finish out the month of February, thereby completing the "climatological winter" months of Dec/Jan/Feb. I did take take a quick look at where we stand after Dec, Jan and half of Feb, and at this time we are in 9th place on the list of coldest winters at RDU in terms of the mean temperature (winter '76-77 is in first place). Interestingly, we are in 8th place when you go by average high temperature for the winter (again, '76-77 takes the cake), but when you look at average low temperatures we are only tied for 20th coldest this year. That is probably a good indicator that our cold this season has more to do with clouds and precipitation holding daytime temperatures down than with exceptionally cold arctic outbreaks and lots of clear, frigid nights.

  • hp277 Feb 15, 2010

    I don't remember having a consistently cold stretch in this area like we have had since about Christmas. We have not had the usual few warm days sprinkled in, and being below freezing almost every night also seems unusual. Are we anywhere close to having a record cold winter?

  • bissette Feb 11, 2010

    Thank You for your response Mr. Moss. I'm sorry I sounded aggrivated, but we seem to always get so disappointed in this area. Snow to the Norh, South and West. It just gets frustrating when you enjoy snow so much as I do. I'm sure many others do as well and I'm sure if you ask Greg he would understand. I live between Raleigh and Wilson and sometimes we get big snows and it doesn't seem like it's so hard to snow.
    I just think about the 1979, 1980 and 2000 snowstorms. They were so exciting. Also, when I was very young in the 1960's it seemed to snow very often. Should we stop looking and hoping for a nice snow for this year?

  • Mike Moss Feb 11, 2010

    (... continued from previous comment) we may tend to miss out on some tropical-related rainfall in El Nino years, and tend to add a little more than usual in La Nina years.

    Bissette, Sorry I was not at work on Wednesday and am writing from home today so I can't really speak to what Greg and Mike had Tuesday evening or Elizabeth on Wednesday. I did make forecasts for radio and TV Tuesday morning, however, and at that time it appeared we would have a situation on Wednesday with some sun in the morning, then clouds developing midday into the afternoon that would favor some snow crystal growth but that would be shallow enough that the snow had a good chance of evaporating before reaching the ground, but a small chance of creating a flurry or light snow shower in spots. We certainly weren't guaranteeing flurries at that time, just didn't want anyone to be surprised if a few occurred. I think we strongly stressed that the bigger issue would be cold, very gusty winds.

  • Mike Moss Feb 11, 2010

    Couple of brief responses, and thanks for the comments!

    PackManSJP, Vancouver as you note has a pretty complex climate pattern due to its location and the amount of terrain relief in the vicinity. The low elevation climate there is pretty mild, but even so they average over 6 inches of snow in January (none this year) and almost 4 in February. As of the other day when I posted the blog, no snow either month, just rain, and of course the issue is that the warmer than normal conditions also extend to higher elevations, not necessarily eliminating snow altogether, but reducing it, mixing in some rain, and degrading its quality and reliability for a given event.

    Charlesboyer, for much of the U.S., El Nino and La Nina patterns lose much of their correlation to weather patterns here during the warmer half of the year, being much more influential in the winter and surrounding months. However, as you noted, El Nino tends to suppress Atlantic tropical activity so (see next post...)

  • bissette Feb 10, 2010

    What happened to the flurries that were predicted for Wednesday 2-10-2010 by only Wral?
    I saw the noon forecast on Wral and nothing was mentioned about it. She said MOSTLY SUNNY today. This morning.....cloudy with flurries all across the area. Why not some explanation...we're not dumb or have short memories.

  • charlesboyer Feb 9, 2010

    Perhaps a subject idea for another blog, but what are the summertime effects of El Nino here in NC?

    Seems to me that I remember them inhibiting hurricanes hitting our coast thanks to the jet stream being more southerly, but I could easily be wrong about that...

  • PackManSJP Feb 9, 2010

    Mike, is Vancouver even have a climate of heavy seasonal snowfall outside of the mountain areas around it? I always thought with its porximity to the Pacific and Seattle, it would be wet, but milder.

  • GRush Feb 9, 2010

    Maybe the Northeast US could ship them some snow; they certainly have plenty!