El Niño Awakens, Strikes

North Dakota is an odd, varying state, to say the least. We have a record low temperature of -60 degrees Fahrenheit and record high of 121. This may sound like a meteorology lecture to you, but I swear it is interesting.

Though it may not feel like it now, this winter has been unseasonably warm in Fargo. I have found myself wondering why.

To quench my thirst for further knowledge, I hit the books, or Internet in this case, and learned of the term El Niño. I also found that my understanding of the weather is incredibly limited.

After talking with North Dakota Assistant State Climatologist Daryl Ritchison I learned that probably 90 percent of Midwesterners have heard of the expression. I was in the minority. Maybe you are, too, so here’s a crash course.

El Niño is the warming of the Equatorial Pacific area and changes in the wind patterns that distribute heat. The term translates to “the Christ Child.” It got the name because it is around Christmas time that we experience the most noticeable temperature change. The temperatures only have to be 0.5 degrees Celsius above average to be considered as El Niño winter.

When people hear El Niño they think, “‘Oh, the winter will be warmer.’ This is not always true,” said Ritchison. Though the winter as a whole will be above average, it won’t be every day.

“Stronger [warmer] winters like these are more rare,” said Ritchison. Some days we will see 4 to 5 degrees above average. This may not seem like much, but you know you are from the Midwest when you get excited about a few measly degrees warmer.

But brace yourself because winter is not over yet. “Odds are at some point in February we will have an arctic blast,” Ritchison said.

Though El Niño means above average temperatures, it does not mean above average amounts of precipitation. In fact, it usually means “around average or below average precipitation,” Ritchison said, which would help hamper the spring floods.

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