(SOUTHERN COLORADO) — A transition is about to happen in the next few months and no it’s not the change from winter to spring – it’s a global transition in our weather patterns.

You may be familiar with La Niña and El Niño and have heard about the huge impact they can have on weather patterns across the globe, including the U.S.

We’re about to see both this year, which has not happened for a while as Earth has been in a La Niña pattern for the last three years. But in 2023, we’re about to go through a slow transition this spring – to El Niño.

What is El Niño and La Niña?

How does something in another area of the world affect us in the U.S. and what does El Niño and La Niña mean?

For starters, El Niño and La Niña are phenomena apart of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle. The two are opposing climate patterns that break “normal” conditions.

During normal conditions in the Pacific Ocean, trade winds blow west along the equator, taking warm water from South America towards Asia.

In La Niña, sea-surface temperatures are colder than normal in the Pacific Ocean and near the equator. A cold ocean means less evaporation, and fewer clouds building in that area, affecting the jet stream aloft that carries storm systems around the world.

In El Niño years, it’s the opposite. Warm sea surface temperatures move into the Pacific and warm water fuels the jet stream even more creating more evaporation, and more clouds creating an active storm system that can affect parts of the country. 

This active storm system tends to affect the southern U.S. leaving other portions of the country warmer and drier. 

Colorado, however, falls in the in-between meaning we can see a little bit of both. Just like Colorado weather is known for, it can change often.  

As this change happens from La Niña to El Niño, we’ll enter what’s called an ENS-neutral phase.

The latest forecast from the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center says there is a 90% chance of a return to “ENSO-neutral” conditions from March to May, with that probability decreasing as we get closer to summer and putting us closer to an El Niño phase by the summer.

El Niño’s effect on global temperatures

Can these ENSO phases help aid in weather extremes? 

Data: NOAA and Climate Central

New data from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) compiled by Climate Central shows as global temperatures rise yearly, El Niño events may boost that warmth even more and can cause extreme droughts or stronger rainfall events around the world. 

El Niño can boost global temperatures, layering the warm ENSO phase on top of the primary long-term warming trend due to carbon pollution.

This means as temperatures get warmer in the next few months, we may see a ‘bigger’ boost in global temperatures thanks to El Niño.