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NWS says expected El Nino conditions should warm up winter a bit across region

Sun dogs flank the sun with the temperature in single digits Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service

MINOT, N.D.—So you're telling me there's a chance.

The National Weather Service in Bismarck says they expect a return to El Nino conditions this fall that could impact our weather through spring of next year.

Right now an El Nino Watch is in effect but all indicators are that the watch will change to an advisory this fall. In other words, says Ken Simosko, Bismarck NWS meteorologist, El Nino conditions are expected within the next few months.

"The odds are in our favor for above normal temperatures and below normal snowfall," said Simosko. "We've had 25 El Ninos since 1950. Seventy percent of the time temperatures are warmer and snowfall is below normal. That's pretty strong evidence people can use."

While the NWS is optimistic about the continued formation of El Nino and the warm influence it can have on a North Dakota winter, they say that it "doesn't mean that it is guaranteed." Other factors can come into play, such as Arctic intrusions that can essentially override El Nino for several days at a time.

"Those we can't see until maybe two weeks in advance," said Simosko. "There's other weather factors that can come into play and interfere with El Nino too."

Nevertheless, any possibility of El Nino is generally favorably received in North Dakota. El Nino starts with a warming of the Pacific Ocean a few degrees either side of the equator. The surface temperatures there are constantly monitored by the Climate Prediction Center. It takes as little as a half degree increase to make a difference in creating El Nino conditions.

"Right now we are expecting a weak to moderate El Nino," explained Simosko. "Still, we expect above normal temperatures and below normal snowfall. The projection is we'll continue to warm."

Don't expect 50 and 60 degree days December-February, but the overall average temperatures should be a few degrees higher than normal. Sometimes that means warmer temperatures overnight will increase the daily average. Other times daytime temperatures will run normal to above normal with the number of below normal days kept to a minimum.

"We wanted to get the word out that El Nino continues to develop, possibly even into spring of next year," said Simosko. "Right now we're just not certain what the impacts might be. As we approach winter we'll know with greater certainty. There are still certain thresholds to be reached for an actual El Nino episode."

Some of those thresholds have already been met and, with the continuing trend of favorable indicators, an official declaration of El Nino is expected in the coming months.