El Nino and its impact on Missouri winter

Debbie Johnson
Senior Writer
University of Missouri Cooperative Media Group

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December 16, 2015

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Winter is upon us. Will it be cold and snowy or will there be a mild winter this year in Missouri?

That's not an easy call, even though December is off to a warm start. The current strong El Nino, which is warmer than normal sea surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific, doesn't exert a lot of control over Missouri's winter weather, according to the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center.

"Missouri tends to be somewhat of a transition state when we look at the impacts that El Nino has across the country during the winter season," said Pat Guinan, climatologist for the University of Missouri Extension Commercial Agriculture Program. According to the Climate Prediction Center, there are equal chances for above-, below- and near-normal temperatures and precipitation for much of Missouri.

El Nino has a bit more pull in northern Missouri, where there's a slightly enhanced likelihood of warmer than normal conditions this winter.

"Then as you go south from Missouri there's a more active storm track trend across the southern United States, which will bring cooler and wetter conditions," Guinan said.

El Nino has more influence in other parts of the country. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, parts of the Ohio Valley, Great Lakes and the northern Rockies tend to be drier during an El Nino winter. The southern plains and northern Gulf Coast trend cooler, while northern-tier states tend to be warmer.

So when will the current El Nino condition change?

"Not any time soon," Guinan said. "According to the Climate Prediction Center, there's high confidence that these El Nino conditions will persist throughout this winter."

Guinan says September, October and November were mild in Missouri. Once all the numbers are crunched, the fall of 2015 could rank among the top five warmest autumns of the past 121 years, he says.

But that's not the only record that might be set this fall.

"Preliminary data indicate the average statewide November total precipitation was right around 8 inches," Guinan says. "Normal November precipitation for the state is about 3 inches. So it was the wettest November in 121 years."

For more information, visit the Missouri Climate Center website at http://climate.missouri.edu.

Source: Pat Guinan, 573-882-5908