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S. Utah may absorb brunt of El Nino's late '97 tour

A few weeks ago, weather types joked that everything but dandruff and athlete's foot was caused by El Nino.

"Now El Nino's getting the blame for dandruff as well," laughed Vernon E. Kousky, a research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.OK, so the unprecedented warming in the equatorial central and eastern Pacific that is El Nino probably can't take the fall for that "embarrassing itching and flaking" - but it is altering global weather.

And yes, that includes Utah.

For now, it's impossible to predict just how many inches of El Nino-caused snow or rain will be dumped on the Beehive State this winter. Technology still can't provide a reliable, exact long-term temperature or precipitation forecast.

"But there could be a greater than normal amount of precipitation and snow in the mountains," said Kousky.

Remember, the Utah floods of 1983 occurred in the midst of an El Nino episode.

Southern Utah could take the brunt of El Nino's 1997 Utah tour. Don't cancel your annual December golf excursion to St. George - but remember your umbrella.

"But I don't expect Green Valley to become part of Mesquite, Nev.," said William Alder of the National Weather Service.

Alder added a tighter prognosis of El Nino's impact on Utah should be available by Thanksgiving.

Based on climate predictions and past El Ninos, most of the southern United States will likely be wetter that normal.

Somewhat drier than normal conditions could develop in the northern high Plains and in sections of the Midwest. Temperatures are likely to be warmer that normal in the northern half of the United States and along the California coast, and slightly cooler than normal along the Gulf Coast, according to the NOAA.

Weather experts began noticing El Nino behavior last March when sea surface temperatures throughout the east-central Pacific increased at a time when temperatures normally drop.

By August, ocean surface temperatures were at or near record levels for the month in many Pacific regions. By this time, weather types were already scrambling to measure the global impact of what could be a dramatic El Nino sea-son.

Because of El Nino's historical appetite for destruction, interest stretches far beyond weather stations. Entire harvests can be threatened, and lives sometimes lost.

Northern Californian farmers are probably still cursing the 1976-77 El Nino that caused record drought. Six years later, a subsequent El Nino prompted floods along the West Coast that caused an estimated $200 million damage in California alone.

El Nino has caused monumental trouble in other climes. The 1982-83 El Nino generated five hurricanes that left 25,000 Tahitians homeless, while a recent episode brought severe droughts to Indonesia and likely caused the worst drought in southern Africa this century, according to USA Today.

Already, El Nino has likely fueled a series of destructive Pacific hurricanes like Nora and Pauline along the Mexican coast.

Indicators also show that the weather pattern currently over the United States has been influenced by El Nino. The somewhat wetter and cooler than normal conditions over the northern Rockies and sections of the Great Plains, along with the unusually dry conditions in the mid-Atlantic states are features observed during past El Nino episodes, according to the NOAA.

El Nino has sometimes proved to be a blessing. Two episodes are credited for ending severe drought in California in the 1980s.