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El Nino Watch Issued: What is El Nino, and why should we care?

This weather change is coming after a rare three years straight of La Nina, which is the opposite of El Nino.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — El Nino is a climate phenomenon that occurs when the surface waters of the tropical Pacific Ocean become warmer than average thus affecting the atmospheric circulation and weather patterns around the world. 

El Nino usually happens every two-to-seven years and can last for several months or more than a year. This change coming is after a rare three years straight of La Nina, the opposite of El Nino.

The latest El Nino Watch issued by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center indicates a 62% chance of El Nino developing during the May–July period. That chance rises to more than 80% chance by the fall. This means that conditions are favorable for the onset of El Nino in the next six months but it is not a guarantee that it will happen.

Credit: Climate.gov

El Nino can have significant impacts on global and regional climate, especially during the winter season. 

Some of the typical effects of El Nino include warmer and drier conditions in parts of North America, South America, Australia, and Southeast Asia, and cooler and wetter conditions in parts of Africa, Central America, and the Pacific Islands. 

El Nino can also influence the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones (such as tropical storms and hurricanes), droughts, floods, heat waves, and cold snaps.

Credit: NOAA

For the Carolinas, El Nino usually means a wetter and more relaxed-than-average winter season. El Nino also helps to deter the number of hurricanes due to the increase in wind shear over the Atlantic tropical Basin.

RAISE YOUR WEATHER IQ: How wind shear can rip apart a hurricane

However, not every El Nino event is the same, and the exact outcomes depend on many factors, such as the strength and duration of El Nino, the time of year it occurs, and how it interacts with other climate patterns. Therefore, it is vital to monitor the evolution of El Nino and its potential impacts on the weather for the Carolinas, especially into the fall and winter seasons.

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