El Niño Is Coming and It's Going to Be Good for North Texas

The National Weather Service and International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University announced Friday that the groups were bumping their estimation of the likelihood of a summer El Niño this year to 70 percent.

Depending on where you get your online news, this was either potentially fantastic or a warning to leave Earth on the first available shuttle.

Unfair Park had no idea what to think. We remembered that El Niño was a thing and that it sounded ominous, but we had no idea why it happened or what it would mean for North Texas' climate. To remedy our ignorance, we got in touch with Dan Huckaby, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Fort Worth office and an expert on the causes and effects of El Niño and its sister phenomenon La Niña.

El Niño, Huckaby says, occurs when the Pacific Ocean off the coast of South America warms. That warning can affect weather patterns worldwide. For North America and North Texas specifically, the most likely outcome is increased precipitation, but nothing will happen as early as the summer.

"We won't see the effects of a summer El Niño until this winter," he says.

"The last time we had an El Niño was the winter of 2009-2010, when we had over a foot of snow in one day," he says.

Although floods are a possibility, Huckaby says an El Niño could do more good than harm to North Texas as a potential respite for the current drought.

As for the weather event's name, Huckaby tells Unfair Park that when South Americans first noticed El Niño a few hundred years ago, the warmer waters first reached shore around Christmas. El Niño (the boy) is a nod to baby Jesus. La Niña (girl) is indicated by cooler ocean temperatures in the eastern Pacific, and the name was coined by meteorologists to reflect that it was the opposite of El Niño.

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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young