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Shift from La Niña to El Niño could impact Texas weather patterns Posted on January 10, 2023


Though the National Weather Service is forecasting a warmer and drier-than-normal start to 2023 for most of Texas, a change from a La Niña weather pattern to El Niño later in 2023 should result in big changes for our state. The predicted shift to El Niño conditions means that Texas could experience more moisture and rainfall. According to Dr. Mark Wentzel, a hydrologist at the Texas Water Development Board, “the months of April, May, and June historically bring a lot of rainfall to our state. And they're very important for us in terms of avoiding drought. If we can get some normal to above-normal rainfall during those months, that can help us stay out of drought during the coming summer months.” In the soundbites below, Dr. Wentzel shares more information about the possible transition and what that could mean for our state’s drought conditions.

What are El Niño and La Niña?

Dr. Mark Wentzel - Hydrologist, Texas Water Development Board

"El Niño and La Niña, that whole cycle, that is really just looking at sea surface temperatures in a large area of the eastern Pacific. And that's quite a distance away from us. So, it wouldn't seem like it would have any relevance to us. But what it does is the temperature conditions in that part of the ocean sets up circulation patterns in the atmosphere, and those patterns are what bring us extra moisture from the Pacific. They’re patterns that may suppress hurricanes from coming to us from the Gulf. They may influence the jet stream that is bringing cool air down to us from the north. So, in combination, El Niño/La Niña influence weather patterns all over the globe, they mean different things to different people, different areas. But for us, La Niña conditions, the warmer temperatures in the eastern Pacific, those really correlate to warmer and drier winters than we would typically experience."

Additional soundbites from Dr. Mark Wentzel - Hydrologist, Texas Water Development Board

If we transition from La Niña conditions to El Niño conditions, what can we expect?

"As we transition to neither warmer or cooler than average, that would be the neutral conditions on the La Niña/El Niño cycle. In those neutral conditions, we expect just more average in terms of the types of temperatures that we get and the precipitation that we get. Average rainfall in April, May, and June, that's really good for Texas. Those are our wet months, the ones that typically give us a lot of precipitation. We need that precipitation going into the summer. So, we really need at least average or better-than-average during the April, May, June timeframe in order to be sure that we don't have an increase in drought over the summer. So, it's a real positive thing to be back to average. And then looking a little farther afield, if we get to the point where we have El Niño conditions, then in the winter for Texas, that would mean above-average precipitation and cooler conditions."

Do we need to continue conserving water if it looks like we might get rain thanks to El Niño?

"We are not out of the woods here yet by any means. We are still tracking statewide about ten percentage points lower than normal for our water supply reservoirs at this time. We are showing that we've kind of been flat since August, and you do have to flatten out first. But we haven't really seen that complete recovery yet, we've just seen that flattening out. So, in your local areas, you may be experiencing conditions even worse than that ten-percentage-point reduction that's, kind of, average across the state. So, do be conscious of that. Be working on your water conservation, listen to your local water providers and your local authorities about how restrictive you should be in your conservation measures. We look forward to getting out of this, but we're not quite out of it yet."

This article is posted in Weather / Drought .