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El Nino could mean cool, wet winter

It's hot. Of course, it is July.

Now that I've stated the obvious, let us look ahead to the cooler months. The trending news right now among meteorologists is that all signs in the Pacific are pointing to a strong, lasting El Nino event happening from now into at least next spring.

El Nino is the warmer half of the El Nino/Southern Oscillation, ENSO, and occurs when the sub-surface waters in the eastern Pacific off the coast of South America become warmer than normal. La Nina, on the other hand, is the opposite - cooler waters in the same area. When we have neither one, we call the period ENSO neutral, and it makes long-term forecasts much more difficult for the Climate Prediction Center.

This is the first time in a while that meteorologists have had pretty high confidence in the strength and duration of the event. Expectations are that this one could be on the scale of 1997's event. According to a summary from the National Climatic Data Center, that winter was characterized by unusual extremes including flooding in California and the Southeast (including western NC), tornadoes in Florida, and an ice storm in the Northeast.

For the drought-stricken California, a strong El Nino will be a mixed blessing of more rain and the potential for mudslides and flooding if the rain comes too much too fast. Parched land needs a slow steady rain in order to have a chance to really start absorbing the water into the ground.

For the southeast, El Nino usually means wetter than normal and cooler than normal temperatures. North Carolina tends to fall on the northern edge of the map of the region when looking at those trends. However, according the Climate Office of North Carolina, if a strong El Nino combines with a negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation - another meteorological event, North Carolina has an average increase of 25% more snow days in the winter. At this point, the NAO is in the positive phase, but keep in mind that it was positive this past winter, too.

If you are tired of talking about July's heat, maybe it's time to chat around the water cooler about the coming winter.