El Niņo's Effects

Recent rainfall along the coastal plains caused most rivers in the region to remai above flood stage this winter. Results ranged from inconveniences such as road and bridge closures to evauations. Farmers have not been able to get their sprin crops planted due to soaked fields.

The present 1997-98 El Niņo cycle is the strongest ever recorded. Records have been kept since the early part of this century. The Southeastern states have felt the effects of numerous low pressure systems which left a track of excessive rainfall, only to be followed a few days later by record cold. Rivers have been overflowing their banks, and some farmers have lost significant portions of this spring's crops due to El Niņo related weather patterns. Several outbreaks of deadly severe weather have been attributed to El Niņo conditions, particularly the tornadoes in central Florida.

The Southeast is not the only area to experience abnormal and destructive weather. The coastal communities in California received the most damaging effects of El Niņo related storms coming from the Pacific Ocean. Many homes along the coast and in hilltop communities were damaged or destroyed in mudslides. The Gulf coast, eastern Texas, and much of Florida received record rainfall amounts. The only regions that benefitted from El Niņo conditions were the northern Great Plains and areas eastward to New England. Conditions in this part of the country were relatively quiet with below normal snowfall and above to much above normal temperatures. This was a result of an active southerly storm track from California to Texas and the Southeastern US coast. The Northern US was spared major winter snowstorms and arctic outbreaks.

Almost half the normal yearly rainfall has fallen in the first three months of 1998 at the Charleston Airport, and this isn't considered our wet season. It's no wonder that all of the rivers in our County Warning Area have been above flood stage for most of the winter. Over ten inches of rain fell at the Charleston Airport in February. This is an all time record for the month since record keeping began. For Savannah and vicinity, the amounts were not quite record breaking, but rainfall totals were still very impressive. Amounts have been running about

200% of normal since January 1st ! For Charleston it was closer to 250% through March 31st. The mild and wet pattern for the season caused much of the vegetation to start blooming early, and the record breaking cold spell in mid-March could not have arrived at a worse time for local farmers. The coldest airmass of the season severely damaged and killed some crops in Georgia and South Carolina. Temperatures fell to record levels: 24 degrees at Savannah and 22 at Charleston on Friday the 13th!

El Niņo Forecast:

Equatorial sea surface temperature departures will remain strongly positive from the coast of South America to the Dateline. The latest National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) forecasts indicate that strong warm episode oceanic conditions, comparable to those observed during 1982-83, will continue through June 1998. Thereafter, computer models indicate a return toward normal.

The forecast for the Southeastern US (March though May) calls for a greater than 50% probability for below normal temperatures, especially the Gulf Coast states, the eastern portions of the Carolinas, and Florida. After El Niņo conditions subside, the forecast for June through August is for a near 40% probability for above average temperatures for areas east of the Appalachians.

The precipitation forecast calls for probabilities near climatology. This means that there are equal chances for normal, above, and below normal amounts in the Southeast US, and for much of the country in general. The Southwest US will continue to see above normal rainfall amounts throughout the spring, and the area from the Great Lakes southward can expect a dry summer, if predictions come true.

NOAA maintains a separate El Niņo web page at:

http://www.elnino.noaa.gov

 

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