ST. PAUL, Minn. — Just as 2023 is on track to be one of — if not the hottest year — on record, El Niño is threatening to heat things up even more.
WCCO spoke with Dr. Kenneth Blumenfeld, a senior climatologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
"El Niño is a warming of the ocean waters in the Equatorial Pacific," Blumenfeld said. "As those waters warm, it actually changes winds and it changes the current that blows from east to west."
It's changing global weather patterns. In the United States, the effects are felt most in the winter, with wetter conditions in the south, and warmer and drier conditions in the north.
What kind of weather impacts could be in store for Minnesota?
"On average, El Niño winters tend to be a degree or two warmer than non-El Niño winters, and that's pretty significant when you realize you're averaging that over a whole season," Blumenfeld said.
Three of our top five warmest years were during El Niño. The last big one was in 2016, which also shattered global temperature records.
"The one that is coming is forecasted to be pretty strong. It's not clear if it's going to be a record-breaker, though," Blumenfeld said.
Dr. Suzi Clark is a climate scientist and science communicator at the University of Minnesota.
"An El Niño cycle returns every two to 10 years, it's kind of a big range," Clark said. "There's not a lot of understanding yet about what exactly causes it."
Clark says there's concern among scientists about how climate change and El Niño interact.
"Because climate change is this long-term trend of increasing global temperatures, and these oscillations happen on top of it, and so things that might not have been very extreme in the past can become very extreme in the future because we see these compounding factors," Clark said.
Although many factors, including El Niño, influence global weather patterns, Mother Nature can — and will — be unpredictable.
We've been in a La Niña weather pattern for the last three winters. That typically brings colder temperatures and less precipitation.
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