Rainfall famine to feast…will the 2023-24 El Niño be a strong one?

There is a new blog post out at the Southern Plains Perspective. Read below!

A few weeks ago I wrote in this blog space about how folks at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were predicting that we were in for an El Niño weather pattern later this year (https://southernplainsperspective.wordpress.com/2023/05/22/el-nino-comethmaybe/).    Sure enough, NOAA is now calling the chance of El Niño later this summer to be 90%–and more and more it looks like it could be a strong one.

If you remember some of our past podcasts with the Oklahoma State Climatologist Gary McManus or Victor Murphy at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, Texas, again and again we heard that even if we have an El Niño develop, it won’t have much of an impact in North Texas and Oklahoma if it isn’t a “strong” El Niño, defined as having a high Oceanic Niño Index (ONI) which is the rolling 3-month average temperature anomaly—difference from average—in the surface waters of the east-central tropical Pacific near the equator.

Well, guess what—-we may be in for it.

According to a study published in April in the Journal Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Research, the increase that we are seeing in global temperatures may be resulting in higher-than-normal temperatures in the waters of the east-central Pacific.  Research has already shown that the ocean heat content in 2022 was the hottest ever recorded-a record that we may very well break in 2023.  As the Pacific Ocean heat content rises, so does the likelihood of a very strong El Niño cycle. 

Does this change in temperature and ocean heat content automatically mean we are in for a super-strong El Niño cycle like the one we last saw in 2015?  Not necessarily, but it does help increase the likelihood that we could see a definite change in the weather (at least in Oklahoma and Texas and if its strong enough, maybe even Kansas).   If this trend continues warmer, wet winters and more precipitation in the spring could be on the horizon.   If the El Niño is indeed strong, we also could see heavy, violent rain events and potentially flooding (remember the wettest month EVER in the history of Oklahoma and Texas was May 2015—during a super strong El Niño event).

Now might be a good time to do a little planning on how you would deal with these types of events.    Are you taking steps to control the sheet, gulley and rill erosion that come with heavy rain storms?   Do you have ponds and other storage and impoundment structures that can hold on to rain water for future use? Have you worked to improve the health of your soil and increase its water holding capacity?

We may or may not have a strong El Niño and with it, heavy rain events.   The worst time to plan for a flood however is when you see the water rising.

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