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El Niño is officially here and "could lead to new records," NOAA says

El Niño watch issued by NOAA
Possible El Niño could mean more wet weather for California this year 04:22

El Niño has officially made its way back after its years-long hiatus. NOAA announced on Thursday that the climate pattern system is expected to strengthen over the next several months. 

The natural climate system comes as the Pacific Ocean experiences "warmer-than-average" surface temperatures. When that happens — every two to seven year — the system returns, generally spawning more rainfall in South America, winter storms in the U.S. West and South and droughts across Asia. 

Michelle L'Heureux, a climate scientist at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, says that climate change can influence those impacts. 

"For example," she said, "El Niño could lead to new records for temperatures, particularly in areas that already experience above-average temperatures during El Niño." 

People in the U.S. won't feel the impacts of the phenomenon more strongly until the late fall through spring, NOAA says, but this year, it could be significant. Forecasters say there's a 56% chance of a "strong" El Niño and an 84% chance of a moderate system developing, roughly the same estimate that was predicted last month. Either of these strengths typically result in "wetter-than-average" conditions from Southern California through the Gulf Coast, and "drier-than-average" conditions from the Pacific Northwest to the Ohio Valley, according to the National Weather Service. 

Such impacts could be harsh on California, which spent the first part of this year battling heavy rains and snow that flooded vast areas of the state. The dry conditions could also be worrisome for the Pacific Northwest, as dry weather is one of the factors that can lead to the beginning and spreading of wildfires. 

El Niño's return also influences the 2023 Atlantic Hurricane season. NOAA says that the system's influence on oceans and atmosphere suppresses hurricane development in the Atlantic, while increasing hurricane activity in the Pacific, where surface temperatures have warmed.

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