Warmer than usual temperatures are forecast this winter in Nevada and the Western part of the United States because of an absent El Niño, a weather phenomenon known for its warm waters in the Pacific Ocean.
In the six decades that records have been kept on El Niño, this is the first year meteorologists are scratching their heads, not knowing what to expect, Mike Halpert, deputy director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Md., said Thursday.
"This year we thought we were going to have El Niño," Halpert said, "but then things backed up, and right now conditions are neutral. We still have a month or two to go, and things could change, but at this point, it's looking like El Niño is a no-show."
And when El Niño is a no-show, that often translates into warmer weather across West and cooler than usual weather in Florida, according to data from the Climate Prediction Center.
Though warmer temperatures are expected in Southern California and Nevada, nothing is certain when it comes to predicting the weather.
"In Las Vegas, you should understand about playing the odds," Halpert said. "Think about it like playing craps with loaded dice or dice that's been sanded down. The sevens might come up more than they should, but they're not going to come up all the time. The same thing can be said of the weather out there: Las Vegas has a slight shift toward a more mild winter, but that doesn't mean it's definitely going to happen."
But what has happened, is that El Niño had been churning up warmer waters just south of Hawaii, as much as a few degrees above normal. Then it suddenly stopped, Halpert said.
That was about two months ago. Since then, all bets are off.
El Niño generally spawns strong jet streams that shift southward, causing more rain and colder weather in the West. Conversely, when it's absent, it's warmer.
John Salmen, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Las Vegas, said winter normal temperatures are in the mid-50s to mid-60s.
Expect to add a few degrees to that this year, he said.
But skiers and snowboarders can take heart: It already has snowed nearly 5 inches on Mount Charleston, which isn't uncommon this time of year.
"And we'll see more of that as we get later into November," he said. "El Niño or no El Niño."
Contact reporter Tom Ragan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5512.