We've all heard the term "El Niño" thrown around, but what exactly does an El Niño winter mean for Michigan? More snow? Less snow? Let's find out.

When is El Niño Set to Hit the United States?

You may not have realized it, but we've actually been in an El Niño pattern since early October.

An El Niño climate pattern is typically described as the warming of surface waters in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. As trade winds blow across the Pacific, warm water is moved from South America towards Asia. El Niño typically creates a dividing line causing warm and dry conditions in some areas while other areas can get drenching rain and flooding.

This year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center says there is a 100% chance our current El Niño will last through early winter and a 90% or higher chance that it will last into spring.

Does El Niño Mean Winter Storms and Feet of Snow for Michigan?

Michelle L'Heureux is a meteorologist with the Climate Prediction Center. While the impact of El Niño can't be precisely predicted, she doesn't think El Niño will produce a great deal of heavy snowfall this year.

“In fact, El Niño appears to be the great snowfall suppressor over most of North America,” L'Heureux says.

She goes on to say that the pattern may bring extra precipitation to the southern half of the US, but the air in that region won't be cold enough to turn that moisture into snow.

The exception may be mountainous regions of California and the Southern Rocky Mountains.

As for the Upper Midwest, the Great Lakes, some of New England, the Northern Rockies, and the Pacific Northwest, El Niño is likely to produce less-than-average snowfall.

If you take a look at the map below, you'll see that areas shaded in blue are expected to higher-than-average snowfall, while areas that can expect less snow are shaded in brown.

Expected snowfall during El Niño months (Jan-March) compared to 1991-2020 Average
NOAA Climate.gov

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