Monday, August 17, 2015

El Nino may give Ohio sportsmen the mild winter they haven't seen in 17 years

If the bulk of climatologists’ computer models are correct than Ohio’s deer hunters could see themselves hunting in shirtsleeves while Lake Erie ice-fishing guides may see that their shanties stay in mothballs this winter.

Predicting that an unusually strong – perhaps even record-setting strong – El Nino not only is forming but may extend through the first quarter of 2016, climatologists are looking at its likely far-reaching consequences.

And if those computer-generated climatic models continue to hold steady than the resulting weather affairs may very well claw and maul their way across much of the Western Hemisphere.

For sure it’s complicated with climate-studying scientists cloaking their predictions in some pretty fancy, $10 post-graduate study terminology.

 “All models surveyed predict El Niño to continue into the Northern Hemisphere (through) spring, 2016, and all multi-model averages predict a strong event at its peak in late fall/early winter…,” says the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center along with the International Research Institute for Climate and Society.

“At this time, the forecaster consensus unanimously favors a strong El Niño... Overall, there is a greater than 90-percent chance that El Niño will continue through Northern Hemisphere winter 2015-16, and around an 85-percent chance it will last into early spring.”

In a nutshell, the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is the big kid on the block; it can bully, intimidate, recruit and compel a host of other weather-makers, not only in the Western Hemisphere but world wide.

 “Obviously the forecast outlook will be updated and refined, which is something that we do once a month with the next update scheduled for mid-September,” Halpert said.

On average an El Nino condition develops about every three to seven years. The last time an especially strong El Nino muscled weather patterns in a huge way was 1997-1998, says Halpert.

What occurs in the years when El Nino becomes the dominating weather factor the winds higher in the atmosphere’s run more straight line west to east. Thus these upper air currents help keep bitterly cold winter temperatures “locked up over Canada,” Halpert says.

Specifically for Ohio, in a year where El Nino flexes its muscles, precipitation levels from January to March can range anywhere from 63 percent to 75 percent of average for each of the state’s 10 designated climatic regions for the

In terms of temperatures during an active El Nino weather campaign, in Ohio for the period December through February can run from 1.1 degree to 2.4 degrees above average. Again, for Ohio’s 10 designated climatic regions.

As for this year’s ENSO-enhanced weather patterns impacting at least northern Ohio, the odds for warmer than average temperatures are 40 percent, and with the same percentage for below average precipitation.

Refined further then, Ohio could encounter 10 fewer inches of snow.

Currently, climatic computer modeling suggests that for the period December through March drier than average conditions are expected for much of Ohio,” Halpert says.

“Understand that during an El Nino pattern there is typically a stronger signal for drier weather than for below or above average temperatures,” Halpert says as well.

Take Lake-Effect snow storms which “…may mask the ENSO response in some years at stations in the vicinity of the Great Lakes and (the) Appalachian Mountains,” says also the National Weather Service.

Still, the prevailing historical record notes that for seven of the past eight El Nino-enhanced events precipitation was less than the recorded average.

 “During a moderate to strong ENSO, winters in the Ohio Valley and lower Great Lakes are likely to be warmer and drier than normal. This in turn results in below normal snowfall across the region, aside from lake effect areas,” the Weather Service says in one of its latest reports on the subject.

As might be expected, climatic are hedging their best computer modeling guesses. A more transparent El Nino-inspired climatic view is still one to two months down the road, Halpert says also.

“It’s a possibility, not a promise,” Halpert says. “We can’t always be correct.”
By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Jeff is the retired News-Herald reporter who  covered the earth sciences, the area's three county park systems and the outdoors for the newspaper. During his 30 years with The News-Herald Jeff was the recipient of more than 125 state, regional and national journalism awards. He also is a columnist and features writer for the Ohio Outdoor News, which is published every other week and details the outdoors happenings in the state.

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