D.C. Area Officially On El Niño Watch for Summer

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These bright red colors represent warm waters in the deep Pacific Ocean, and have climate experts like Mike Halpert on alert.

“As the ocean warms, it typically shifts patterns of tropical rainfall," he says.

We’re officially on El Niño watch, and the chances of it developing by this summer are now greater than 50-percent. El Niño is an ocean and atmospheric circulation that happens every two to seven years. Winds near the Equator in the Pacific weaken, allowing warm water to spread eastward and shift the jet stream that guides weather and storms.

And it could mean serious impacts this winter for Washington, D.C.

“It was just four years ago, the winter of 2009 to 2010, it was a moderate to strong event that folks was I think the snowiest winter on record," says Halpert.

That’s right, Snowmageddon, the monster storm that blanketed the region with two feet of snow happened during an El Niño winter. But El Niño’s influence on the mid-Atlantic is still unclear. While it can increase chances of Nor’easters, other years it has brought little snow to the area.

El Niño is mostly felt in the cold weather months. In the U.S., it can bring wet and stormy conditions along the gulf coast, and warmer, drier conditions to the Midwest. Stronger events are known to cause extreme weather like torrential flooding and mudslides in California.

In fact, an El Niño episode in 1997 was so notorious, it spawned a classic Saturday Night Live skit.

El Niño could also be a good thing and bring some relief to the historic drought in California – it lasts nine to 12 months on average.