(FOX40.COM) — Entering into fall and winter, people in the Sacramento region and across the Western United States will begin wondering if it is going to be an El Niño year or a La Niña year, and what do these even mean?
These two weather patterns were first recognized by native South American fisherman, but their names derive from the Spanish, who also noticed these dramatic weather events in the 1600s.
The full name for El Niño is El Niño de Navidad or The Little Boy of Christmas, as the weather event typically peaks in December. In Spanish, La Niña means little girl.
As winds push warmer waters from the eastern Pacific Ocean west they settle along the western coasts of North America, Central America and South America.
These warmer waters push the Pacific Jet Stream further south from its normal position.
This adjustment causes more wet weather to be carried along the jet stream into the Gulf Coast region and into the Southeastern portion of the United States.
This can cause serious flooding in these regions.
In California, from Sacramento to the Mexico border, El Niño can bring extremely cold and wet winters or extremely dry and warm winters, according to the United States Geological Survey.
If it is a very strong El Niño year, like in 2023, storms of a much greater magnitude than normal can hit an area far more frequently than usual.
More commonly though, El Niño brings dry conditions to the northern part of the United States and warmer temperatures.
El Niño can also increase the severity of hurricane season for the eastern Pacific basin.
As winds push warm waters towards the Americas for an El Niño weather event, a La Niña occurs when winds push warmer waters away from the Americas towards the east.
This leaves much colder waters along the coasts of the Americas causing the Pacific Jet Stream to be pushed further north from its typical position.
This also causes upwelling along the western coast of North America, which brings nutrient-rich water to the upper layer of the ocean, providing food for a variety of marine life.
On land, the higher placement of the jet stream brings colder and wetter conditions to the northwest of the United States and the southwest of Canada.
Conversely, Southern California, the Gulf Coast region and the Southeastern United States experience a much drier and warmer weather pattern.
Hurricane season in the Atlantic basin can be more severe due to a La Niña.
California 2023 El Niño Expectations
According to the California Coastal Commission, weather models are showing that the 2023-24 Northern Hemisphere winter will see a strong El Niño.
This year’s peak is expected to occur between December to February 2024 and may even extend into the spring.
California is expected to receive another winter with frequent and intense storms that will cause increased amounts of rainfall and high wave conditions on the California coast.
For more information on the coming El Niño and how to prepare for the expected impacts click here.