El Nino May Let It Snow, Snow, Snow

snow winter blizzard
The late fall storm dumped half a foot on the nation's capitol, an early Christmas present for Heather Lewis.

"I love winter and I love snow, and I think it's exciting when you get your first snow of the year," she says.

As CBS News Correspondent Joie Chen reports, forecasters saw it coming as early as Tuesday -- a classic El Nino pattern. Starting in the Southwest, the storm swept from Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle through Arkansas and Tennessee, icing over the Carolinas before turning northeast.

"I have this great fear that it means that the rest of the winter's going to be exactly like this and it's going to snow, snow, snow," says Elizabeth Kramer.

And that is possible.

"El Nino plays an important role in increasing the chances of winter storms because they cause a very active storm system in the southern part of the United States," Dr. Jim Hoke, an NOAA meteorologist, tells Chen.

El Nino begins in the Pacific with the build-up of warmer-than-usual waters near the equator. That then leads to a change in air patterns, which can lead to dramatic changes in the weather. A typical El Nino pattern brings cooler, wet weather to the southeast as the system turns north -- that moisture mixed with cold can add up to many inches of snow.

"When you have an active southern stream to get the moisture, the northern jet stream gives you the cold air, then you get some snow storms, and when the two phase you get blizzards," says WUSA meteorologist Topper Shutt.

The silver lining in the El Nino clouds? Precipitation. Whether it comes as rain or sleet or snow, all that water may be enough to pull the east coast out of the drought.