What a weakening El Nino means for Houston

CREDIT: Pixabay.com

Almost all of us have been on a rollercoaster (not any more!), so you’ll well-remember that first hill--climbing to the tip top and then plunging quickly to the bottom. That’s what the forecast for El Nino reminds me of: one of the steepest descents of an El Nino I’ve ever seen our models predict. And they are all on board:

CREDIT: International Research Institute for Climate and Society

Interpreting this chart is easy...follow especially the red line above: our current Pacific El Nino is already weakening and by June will be in a Neutral Phase while shifting to a La Nina phase by late summer.

Quick reminder that El Nino is a warming of the eastern Pacific waters which warms the air above it. That rising warm air does a few things: it causes extreme heat thus our HOT summer of 2023 along with drought and it causes a winter pattern of atmospheric rivers into the western US (just ask California about that one) which leads to more severe winter storms moving across Texas and Houston (witness the hail/wind storms of last Sunday). The upside for us is that El Nino winds across the Caribbean tend to either tear apart developing hurricanes or, at least, keep hurricanes away from the western Gulf of Mexico, and thus we had a quiet 2023 tropical season. The fact is, El Nino, changes weather patterns all over the world.

RELATED: AN EARLY HURRICANE HEADS UP FOR HOUSTON AND TEXAS

So when El Nino fades, what then?

Just the opposite of what we’ve seen. I am expecting a summer that, while hot, will not be extreme like last year. Still, there is a slight chance of warmer than normal for our area:

CREDIT: Climate Prediction Center (NOAA)

And our summer will be closer to normal for rainfall, but still on the cusp of normal vs below normal:

CREDIT: Climate Prediction Center (NOAA)

Why are these so 50/50? Because the transition from El Nino to La Nina will be happening during the summer and it’s hard to predict just when that happens. We could be in a neutral phase for a while, therefore a 50/50 phase.

As for those atmospheric rivers that drive big storms our way, we are more prone to see windy but dry systems move across. Those have their own issues with strong winds and wild fires (it’s always something).

RELATED: WHAT’S AN ATMOSPHERIC RIVER?

And for the hurricane season, we won’t have the El Nino shield of protection like last year. While the season may not be more than just average (14 storms, 7 hurricanes, 3 major hurricanes), we know it just takes one and we’ll be more vulnerable to get one of those.

RELATED: HURRICANE SEASON FROM HELL FORECAST FOR HOUSTON

While this is my preliminary outlook, right now it’s a pretty safe bet that El Nino is saying Hasta Luego by the end of spring!

Frank

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About the Authors

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with four decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.

Christian Terry covered digital news in Tyler and Wichita Falls before returning to the Houston area where he grew up. He is passionate about weather and the outdoors and often spends his days off on the water fishing.