ALBANY, GA (WALB) - It's hard to believe that Winter is less than a month away. Fall in South Georgia has been mild and wet so far, and a lot of that has to do with a historically powerful El Niño.
But what is El Niño and how will it affect our Winter weather?
Chris Farley had it all wrong back in the 1990s and his Saturday Night Live skit. El Niño is not a storm, but it can influence a storm or weather patterns across the Globe.
The term El Niño was first used by Peruvian Anchovy Fisherman. Typically the ocean waters off the coast of this South American country are cool, and anchovies thrive and flourish.
But every several years around Christmas time the fisherman find it difficult to catch any anchovies.
They named this time The Boy Child, after the "Birth of Jesus" or in Spanish: El Niño.
How El Niño affects Winter Weather
The Pacific Ocean's massive expanse typically flows east to west along the equator in what is called a neutral setup. This shoves warm water to the western Pacific, and brings cool water up from the ocean floor in the eastern Pacific.
This is called "upwelling." It also brings nutrients from the ocean floor, that Anchovy feed on.
In El Niño years the current along the equator reverses. It flows west to east. This brings unusually warm water to the eastern pacific.
The strength may be the most important factor in our Winter Weather. Strong to very strong El Niño correlates to wetter and cooler Winters in south Georgia.
That's because the Sub Tropical Jet Stream has become the dominant Storm Track. It brings big rains to California, Texas and the Southeast U.S. We've already seen these heavy rains this fall, but it has been very warm so far.
Looking back to the previous El Niño in 2009 and 2010, Winter started mild and wet. It then turned very cold in January.
By February it combined to bring major snow to south and middle Georgia. Some 2 to 6 inches of snow fell on February 12th.
That Winter ended up being the 6th all-time coldest and wettest.
That year was technically a moderate El Niño. There was something else going on that year.
El Hombre. (Arctic Oscillation)
The Arctic Oscillation is another anomaly that is measured by Winter forecasters.
In the positive phase, pressures are low in the Arctic. This keeps the cold air bottled up in Canada.
In the negative phase, pressures are high in the Arctic. This blocks the things up and sends Arctic air quite far south.
Combine that with the Wet of El Niño and you have a greater chance of snow in the Deep South.
El Gringo (North Atlantic Oscillation)
This anomaly is almost a cousin of the Arctic Oscillation.
In the positive phase it is dry and mild along the eastern seaboard.
In the negative phase Nor'easters are much more likely and that sends colder air into the southeast.
El Niño, El Hombre, and El Gringo all are key in forming the Winter Forecast.
El Niño is forecast to remain strong to start 2016. And that means a wet winter is highly likely.
The last three strong El Niños ranked in the top 10 wettest Winters.
In South Georgia, the average December, January, February rainfall is 15.86". In 1997/1998 we received 20.41" and in 1982/1983 21.29" fell.
All indications are also pointing at a cool to cold Winter. Our average Winter temperature is 51.3 degrees. Strong El Niños have not produced a Top 10 Coldest Winter. However this year's pattern could be the exception.
Long range models, years with similar patterns known as anologs mostly indicate a strong cold anomaly in the southeast U.S.
So this winter, expect temperatures to be about 3 degrees below average and rain totals to be in the 20 inch range.
The snow question
The 1973 strong El Niño produced one of the biggest snowfall in south Georgia. Some 3" to 6" fell on February 9th.
The northern part of the state may have double the normal snow. Middle Georgia, including our northern counties will have a better than average chance of seeing the white stuff.
While most of south Georgia will have slightly above average chance of snow. This pattern may also bring a threat for ice storms in the Deep South.
After strong El Niños, strong La Niñas have always followed.
And that tends to bring a much more active hurricane season in the Atlantic and a drier & milder Winter for the next year in South Georgia.