El Niño expected to bring warmer, stormier winter to Northeast

This NOAA satellite image taken Tues., Nov. 10 at 12:45 p.m. shows a storm system over the Mid-Atlantic moving northeast into New England which will produce moderate to heavy rain over the area overnight. (Weather Underground via AP)

This September’s average temperature was the second warmest recorded in the contiguous United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Many cities recorded high averages and the state of Connecticut recorded its second warmest average temperature for the month.

In their El Niño outlook, NOAA predicted these warmer temperatures are expected to continue through the winter. In addition to general global warming, this year’s warm temperatures are due to El Niño.

“The term El Niño refers to the large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction linked to a periodic warming in sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific,” according to NOAA.

Each El Niño occurrence has variations, which makes exact conditions harder to predict. Despite these differences, there typically is an increase in snowfall and an increase occurrence in coastal storms in the Atlantic, also known as nor’easters. 

“To predict something is sometimes dangerous,” said Dr. Harrison Yang director of the Connecticut State Climate Center and professor of Resources Engineering at the University of Connecticut. “The northeast part of the country is less predictable but ‘warm’ will probably be the feature of the El Niño.”

This year’s El Niño is also expected to bring wetter-than-average conditions throughout the east coast. While many states have already experienced above average precipitation this year, the state of Connecticut received “much below average precipitation,” according to the National Climactic Data Center.

“[The Northeast is] spoiled with year round precipitation and plenty of water supply. This time of year we didn’t get enough,” Yang said.

According to Gary Robbins, hydrogeology specialist and professor of geology at UConn, “We are in a moderate drought period [in Connecticut].”

Storms such as the ‘Perfect Storm’ in October 1991 brought 15 to 30 foot waves to coastal New England during a strong El Niño.
— NOAA

The current groundwater levels in Connecticut are below average. Greenwich, Durham, Southbury and Marlborough have levels that are considered to be “low.” Levels in Mansfield are rated as “below normal” and in Newtown, levels are considered “much below normal” according to the United States Geological Survey.

The university has contingency plans in place to deal with extreme weather conditions such as drought.

UConn’s Water Supply Emergency Contingency Plan outlines four stages for drought response, and if an emergency or warning were called, measures to stop irrigation, pool filling, power washing, fire flow tests and display of fountains would be enacted.

Though El Niño typically brings warmer weather to the Northeast, it also increases the frequency of storms such as Nor’easters and brings above average snowfall.

“Storms such as the ‘Perfect Storm’ in October 1991 brought 15 to 30 foot waves to coastal New England during a strong El Niño,” according to NOAA.

Eleanor Daugherty, associate vice president for Student Affairs and dean of students, sent out an email regarding winter weather and preparation to all UConn students on Nov. 4.

Daugherty advised students to wear mittens, boots, hats and heavy coats to fend off frostbite once winter sets in.
 
“It takes a surprisingly small amount of time for exposed skin to become subject to injury,” she said. “On a 0 degree day with 15 mph winds, you can get frostbite in only 30 minutes.”

“A decision to close the university or cancel classes is a last resort,” Daugherty said.

UConn’s Emergency Closing Policy can be found online and off campus students can contact Off-Campus Student Services for advice and information pertaining to winter conditions.


Brittany Cangelosi is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at brittany.cangelosi@uconn.edu.