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Stronger El Niño could be one for the record books

According to Weather Channel forecasters, El Niño now has an 80 percent chance of lasting into early spring 2016 and a greater than 90 percent chance of lasting through the upcoming winter.

Hold on to your hats! If the latest weather models are right, the El Niño that dropped record rains on much of the Southwest and reversed a trending drought that was the one of the worst on record in Texas may be intensifying and is expected to not only last until winter but possibly into the growing season of 2016.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are both reporting current weather models indicate a stronger El Niño this year has the potential of becoming the strongest on record. It could affect weather so much in the U.S. that it could easily end California's current water plight by putting an end to their record drought.

According to Weather Channel forecasters, El Niño now has an 80 percent chance of lasting into early spring 2016 and a greater than 90 percent chance of lasting through the upcoming winter.

For the latest on southwest agriculture, please check out Southwest Farm Press Daily and receive the latest news right to your inbox.

"El Niño is an anomalous, yet periodic, warming of the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. For reasons still not well understood, every two to seven years, this patch of ocean warms for six to 18 months," reports John Erdman, digital senior meteorologist for the Weather Channel. "The declaration that El Niño is likely to last into spring is important for the United States since precipitation and temperature impacts from a moderate-to-strong El Niño are typically most noticeable during the colder months."

He says El Niño's clearest impact on northern hemisphere weather patterns occurs from late fall through winter, and says looking at past moderate to strong El Niño years indicates variable weather conditions across the U.S. depending on where you live.

What does this mean for Texas and the American  Southwest?

Most forecasters say wet conditions from southern states reaching as far west as the Pacific coast can be expected. Looking at the last strong El Niño event in 1997-98, a little more than 27 inches of rain flooded most of California over a two month period alone (Jan-Feb.), enough to take a huge bite of prevailing drought conditions at that time.

As recent as May this year, moderate El Niño conditions across the Southwest brought record rainfalls to Texas and parts of New Mexico, over 20 inches of rain along parts of the Texas coast in the month of May. In 2015 so far many regions across Texas have surpassed their average annual rainfall totals.

In contrast however, most of June and July so far have seen a spike in temperatures across not just the Southwest but much of the nation, and this also can be contributed to a strong El Niño event.

NOAA forecasters said this week that 2015 is already on track to have its warmest year on record, following the record warm year of 2014. They reported that every month in 2015 so far has ranked among the top four warmest, and June joined March and May as having warmth unsurpassed in records dating as far back to 1880 when numbers were first recorded.

NOAA also reports that sea-surface temperature anomalies increased throughout June in the equatorial Pacific Ocean and many computer models are predicting those sea-surface temperatures will continue to increase. Westerly winds are driving much of these warmer atmospheric conditions west bring exceptionally warm and even drier air to the U.S. Northwest, for example. But prevailing westerly winds also generally cause a drop or dip in the jet stream by early fall bringing unsettled air that interacts with Pacific moisture from heavier-than-usual Pacific tropical activity, such as typhoons.

In contrast, an easterly flow of these winds can help prevent tropical activity from forming in the Atlantic basin, meaning less chance of hurricanes development throughout the remainder of 2015.

Weather officials warn that no two El Niño events are the same and in spite of prevailing conditions, like an El Niño, local and regional weather can often disrupt predicted weather models so some areas will experience weather closely associated with computer models while others may not.

But a good chance of another wet fall and winter across the Southwest, including Texas, would be a welcome development for farmers and ranchers who are already enjoying drought-free conditions for the first time in nearly five years thanks to the current El Niño event.

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