Weatherbeaten? Beware: El Niño’s Back

Sweating in a T-shirt one day, then hibernating due to record snowfall the next. Blame it on the kid.

The historic nor’easter snowstorm, wicked Southern cold, are all part of the weather pattern deemed El Niño (AKA the little boy or “Christ child,” a name given by fisherman). While he started off weak in 2009, the phenomena of “unusually warm” Pacific waters portend storms coast to coast, and might hang around through spring.

Weather tantrums aside, El Niño hasn’t been all bad so far: The pattern may have helped squelch the hurricane season, and it explains the weird bouts of warmer-than-usual autumns in New England. And while El Niño can’t take all the blame for current witheringly cold conditions in some parts, he will, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “exert a significant influence on the global weather and climate in the coming months.”

What to expect? The NOAA (and others) say:

  • Indonesia will be drier than average.
  • Peru and Ecuador will be wetter than average.
  • Southern U.S. will see lots more rainfall.
  • Increased tornado potential in the deep South.
  • Rain will be below average for the Pacific Northwest and the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys.
  • Less snow, mercury rising for northern US (except New England).
  • Chillier climes in the southeast.
  • Snow storms in the northeast.

Can It Be Worse Than 2009 Wild Weather? A Look Back
His visit though couldn’t be more ill-timed for some areas, who are still recovering from a wild 2009. In terms of hurricanes, the year turned out have lowest number in 10 years. That may have offered slim consolation to those who endured record drenching or unusual twisters. Some heavy hitters that sent people flooding to the Web to prep, recover, and help:

Ice storm: About 4,600 Kentucky National Guard soldiers went knocking at every door in a “wellness” campaign, after a late January ice storm swept through the Midwest from the Ozarks through Appalachia. Kentucky bore the brunt, and the governor’s office called the January ice storm “the biggest natural disaster in the state’s history.” Cold snapped entire trees and telephone poles, creating huge power outages. By February, 93 out of 120 counties had declared a state of emergency, and gave FEMA under the Obama administration its first test. A CNN slideshow shows a frozen landscape that was at once lovely and deadly.

Lethal twisters: Tornados hit the the US hard in February, and a cluster of 15 hit seven states n two days. Oklahoma got the brunt of it with no less than six tornadoes, with the Lone Grove tornado the most lethal in a decade (and the strongest February twister since the mid-century). The US saw more than its share of spring tornados (with an April one striking Tennessee), before the season subsided in mid-summer.

While Colorado tornadoes aren’t uncommon, the one that hit Denver in June got attention for hitting urban areas, including a shopping mall.

Record floods: Persistent snow lingered into spring, and North Dakota got torrents of it. How bad? At one point, they had more sandbags than people: 18 million sandbags or, as the governor put it, “nearly 30 for every man, woman and child.” And those men, women and children were working to pile sandbags high against the Red River’s record rise. Smaller communities by the river and its tributaries also got hit, including Valley City, Horace, and Kathryn.

While melting snow contributed to North Dakota’s woes, it was just a relentless drum of September rain that saturated Georgia with historical floods. How historic? The Chattahoochee River, the state’s largest river, reached 500-year levels.

No one can predict how bad this season will get: It’s all about probability. The only thing to do when El Niño returns is to be prepared: Stock the pantries (and cars) with supplies and the kids’ rooms with distractions. And just expect this little houseguest to hang out for a while.