El Niño effect for Coastal Empire & Lowcountry - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

El Niño effect for Coastal Empire & Lowcountry

CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) -

We’ve been hearing a lot about El Niño.

A weather phenomenon based on warmer Pacific Ocean temperatures.

So what does it mean for us? Will our usual winter getaway, balmy weather be blustery with a chance of snow?

Off the coast of Tybee, the water is chilly, but let's head a few thousand miles south off the coast of South America where the ocean is warm. This year, much warmer than normal.

The water is so warm, it's being called a Godzilla or Super El Niño. 

It's being compared to the strongest El Niño recorded in the 20th century, which was in winter 1997-1998. 

That year, mudslides made a mess in California, tornadoes ripped through the Sunshine State killing dozens and we were socked with flood waters.

We've already reaped the benefits of El Niño during our Atlantic Hurricane Season. More thunderstorms in the Pacific gives us upper level wind shear and that will shred storms from forming or steer them away from us.

The disadvantage is the warm waters cause a strong sub-tropical jet stream in the south from California to South Carolina, and an active storm track.

So friends and relatives seeking to soak up our sunshine probably need to pack a little heavier - think coats, hats, even gloves as our winter may be colder than the Midwest.

Here's how our Winter, December through February, is going to play out:

  • Wetter than average 
  • Increased threat of severe thunderstorms including tornadoes
  • Cloudier days
  • Cooler daytime temperatures but not many freezing days

Snow you say? Not so fast. While anything's possible, in the strong El Niño of 97/98, with our 18 inches of rain and colder temperatures we didn't get one flake.

But not all El Niño’s are the same!  And it doesn't have to be super strong to bring major impacts. Not too long ago in a galaxy far, far away, aka 2010, we had a weak El Nino and this was the scene Feb. 12th: sledding in Statesboro at Paulsen Stadium, snowmen in Springfield and smiles all around.

So no shovels needed but we may have to get out our paddles, but if you've lived in Savannah or in the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry long enough you're used to that by now. 

Check out our WTOC Weather archives from the last big El Niño, month by month. They're very impressive!

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