By Jacob Solis
No, as it turns out. Well, not technically anyways.
For starters, El Niño is a climate phenomenon that’s characterized by unusually warm surface waters in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. This has all kinds of consequences, the most visible one being plenty of extra rainfall for the southern U.S. In the two years when El Niño was at its historical highs, 1982-83 and 1997-98, the Sierra Nevadas saw more than a little bit of snow fall from the sky.
This year is seeing another historically strong El Niño through October, and predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have the phenomenon keeping its strength throughout the winter, peaking sometime in the next month.
While plenty of snow has already fallen in only two storms this November and more snow will likely fall, it’s not necessarily due to the effects of this warm equatorial water.
The problem lies in the fact that statistically, El Niño just doesn’t correlate with lots of snow, at least according to a handout put out by the University of Nevada, Reno’s Nevada State Climate Office.
“El Niño has very little relationship with wintertime precipitation in the Sierra and western Nevada,” the handout reads. “Since the 1930s, we’ve had dry El Niño winters and we’ve had wet ones … [and] a strong El Niño does not guarantee us a wet winter in 2015-16.”
It’s an upsetting reality for residents of the Tahoe Basin who had been (and in some cases still are) excited for a wet, wild and El Niño-driven winter. Though the lack of an El Niño in western Nevada doesn’t mean Reno won’t get any snow. The Farmer’s Almanac has plenty of periods of snow and rain coming in the next few weeks — a welcome sight for skiers and boarders around the region.
But even with the added precipitation, the region will still be wracked by a severe drought. After three sustained years of lower-than-average rainfall, it’ll take more than one wet winter to pull the region up.
“One thing to keep in mind is that our precipitation deficits are so large over the past three years that even with a very wet winter we’d still likely be in some form of drought status next year,” said Chris Smallcomb of the National Weather Service in an interview with the RGJ. “So bottom line our outlook for this coming winter remains quite nebulous.”
El Niño won’t be so welcome in other parts of the world though. This year’s is shaping up to be one of the strongest on record and has shaken up swaths of Africa. A report from the BBC and UNICEF found that Ethiopia is being hit by severe drought due to El Niño, and that some 8.2 million food-insecure Ethiopians are threatened by it.
More than that, the same report found that neighboring Kenya and Somalia are at risk of being hit by flooding and landslides. UNICEF has expressed fears that it could worsen what it calls “severe acute malnutrition” in the region.
In any case, the effects of El Niño will certainly continue to develop over the coming months. A Nov. 12 press release from NOAA noted that while the 1997 El Niño, one of the strongest ever, peaked in November, its strongest effects were not felt until the following spring in the U.S. It just won’t be packing on the snow in Lake Tahoe.
At least, not for certain.
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