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How does El Niño and La Niña impact the mid-south?

Find out how these climate patterns can impact our weather here in the mid-South.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — When it comes to our weather you've probably heard about El Niño or La Niña, but do you know what they really mean? 

According to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), El Niño and La Niña are warm and cool phases of a climate pattern that occur in the Pacific. 

The name of this pattern is called the El Nino-Southern Oscillation or “ENSO” for short, which cycles roughly every 2-7 years. Basically, disruptions of sea surface temperatures can influence changes in the atmosphere, which can then affect temperatures and precipitation globally, including here in Arkansas.   

La Niña represents the cool phase of this pattern. Strong winds near the equator push warmer waters west, away from the central eastern Pacific, causing colder water to rise to the surface. 

This leads the jet stream over the U.S. to move further north. In turn, it can give us warmer conditions during the winter here in the South, and it can also lead to drought. 

The opposite is true during El Niño.

That warmer water moves back towards the central eastern Pacific, leading to warmer than average sea surface temperatures. This causes the placement of the jet stream to move back southward, leading to cooler and wetter conditions. 

Normally El Niño or La Niña peak during winter, so depending on which one is expected Meteorologists can use them to help predict what kind of winter we may have that season.

So that leads to the big question, what can we expect this winter? 

According to NOAA, we are entering a moderate La Niña, with an 87% chance we’ll see in persist into the winter. The southern tier of the U.S. will be dealing with drier conditions and above average temperatures, with wetter conditions across portions of the northern U.S. 

Remember these are average conditions we may experience during a winter season. A warmer winter doesn't mean we won't have our fair share of cold spells or snow.