Could we see a new El Niño this fall?

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It was a very smoky week across the Inland Northwest. Last week, the smoke was so thick that many said it was “the worst this area has ever seen.” The air flow from the northeast brought in smoke from the fires in British Columbia and Glacier Park in Montana. Air quality late last week was in the unhealthy category once again with readings above 150. Parts of eastern Washington and North Idaho briefly had air qualities in the “hazardous” category.

Temperatures have cooled down across the region and Cliff and I believe that we have seen the last of the very hot weather. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a few days with very warm temperatures, but the long stretches of dry, hot and hazy conditions have likely come to an end.

Despite the recent drop in temperature, August’s average reading is still about 3-4 degrees above normal. As I mentioned last week, Cliff told me that our mean temperature was over 10 degrees above average levels early in the month.

The strong ridge of high pressure that has been locked over our region since the middle of June should finally weaken to allow more Pacific storms to move into our region next month. This new weather pattern should eventually help with the wildfires in the Northwest and our terrible air quality in Coeur d’Alene and surrounding areas.

The 2018 summer season has certainly been one the driest and smokiest in recorded history. For the second year in a row, precipitation totals were well below normal for July and August. So far, we’ve only seen .05 inches for August — for a total of .07 inches of rain from the start of July to Sunday. Last year, we had a total of only .10 inches for both months before conditions started to turn wet. Assuming everything works out, we should see a repeat of this pattern again, as Cliff sees another 18 inches of moisture for the last quarter of this year.

The summer has also been very hot. We had 19 days with temperatures at or above 90 degrees, compared to a normal of 15 per season. There were also two days with highs at or above 100 degrees.

Global patterns are still under the influence of sea-surface temperatures. We are still in a La Nada, the state between the cooler than normal La Niña and the warmer El Niño. Ocean temperatures along the Equatorial regions were climbing last month, showing indications that we could see the formation of a new El Niño as soon as the fall season.

According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, five of the eight computer models that are used to predict sea-surface temperature trends are still pointing to the formation of a new El Niño. Despite recent cooling of ocean waters near the Equatorial regions, additional warming is expected to resume in the coming weeks. A new El Niño would not be good news for farmers in Australia as typical weather patterns often produce drought conditions in eastern Australia, where severe dryness — perhaps the worst in more than 100 years in some places — is already being reported.

We’re also seen extensive warming of sea-surface temperatures from the Sea of Japan into the southern portions of the Gulf of Alaska. Sea-surface temperatures are also much warmer than normal in the North Atlantic Ocean. In the Arctic regions, ocean temperatures have once again climbed to levels well above normal, which could increase the melting of polar ice.

This La Nada pattern did produce a very hot and dry summer season in the western U.S., leading to numerous wildfires which are still burning. Wildfires have also been reported in Siberia, north of the Arctic Circle, and smoke from those fires has been seen as far away as the U.S. East Coast. Speaking of the East Coast, this part of the country has seen record flooding, while the Great Plains and Midwest has been in a back-and-forth pattern of dry and showery weather. The western portions of the southern Great Plains have been locked in extreme drought for many months.

For the upcoming winter, a new El Niño would likely mean less snow across the Inland Northwest. In Coeur d’Alene, we normally receive over 69 inches of the white stuff. For the 2017-18 season, Cliff measured 90 inches, but we’re looking at totals in neighborhood of 50 inches in Coeur d’Alene for the 2018-19 winter season — assuming an El Niño does form in the waters of the south-central Pacific Ocean.


Contact Randy Mann at

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