What Could El Nino do to Eastern Iowa?

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA (CBS2/FOX28) -- The kind of winter that we have here in Iowa is determined, in part, thousands of miles away in the Pacific Ocean. Winds that usually blow east to west can slow down or even reverse at this time of year, causing a giant pool of warm water to form along the equator.

That warm water, covering an area about half the size of the entire U.S., packs more energy than a million atomic bombs. CBS2/FOX28 Chief Meteorologist Terry Swails has been analyzing the potential impacts this could have on eastern Iowa.

"As that water tracks eastward, it sets off a ripple effect of weather conditions across the globecausing severe storms, floods and droughts. It's called "El Nino" - Spanish for "the boy child" because it peaks in December around the birth of the Christ child."

This is already a strong El Nino, and it's getting stronger. We're already seeing the impacts of this in the form of powerful hurricanes like Patricia, which slammed into the Mexican coast last month. And these conditions will continue through the Spring. Here in Iowa, that often means above normal temperatures. Cold weather still happens, but extreme cold is generally less severe and less frequent.

The Climate Prediction Center says there is a 95% chance that these condition will last through the winter, producing less snow like El Nino events in 1982 and 1997.

"But here's where I have a little different take on El Nino than the weather service." Said Swails. "Several very cold Iowa winters occurred during El Nino episodes, including the winters of 1976-77, 1977-78 and more recently 2009-10. In other words, El Nino does not guarantee a warm winter, but tends to shift the probabilities in that direction."

As always, there is always room for error in forecasting how El Nino will impact our area. As the saying goes, only time will tell.

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