El Niño winter means Houston's winter outlook includes above-normal chances for rain

Elyse Smith Image
Tuesday, October 24, 2023
Houston's winter outlook includes above-normal chances for rain
How often does El Niño occur? The warm phase of ENSO will last from December 2023 to February 2024 and will cause rainy weather systems in Texas.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released its annual winter outlook for the United States. This outlook takes into account several weather and climate factors to help predict what the upcoming winter might look like across the country. Some of these factors include current drought conditions, the presence of an El Niño or La Niña, and other climate prediction methods.

The main thing to know is that the current El Niño is expected to continue this winter, potentially even strengthening from a weak to moderate El Niño in early 2024. This will be the first time in four years that there will be an El Niño in place for the wintertime months and not a La Niña. For the state of Texas, this could bring some welcomed changes to the forecast this winter.

We've already seen the impact of the current El Niño through this year's Atlantic hurricane season. Consistent wind shear over the Gulf has limited tropical development and/or helped steer systems away from the Caribbean and out to the Atlantic Ocean. And that active jet stream over the Gulf could also play a key role in our winter outlook here in southeast Texas, potentially bringing more rainy weather systems our way from December 2023 through February 2024.

With that, we are expecting that this winter could be above average in precipitation and wetter than normal. After a record hot and dry summer that also brought on a flash drought, this should be music to Houstonians' ears! And that active jet stream locked over the southern half of the U.S. could also influence temperatures too, though a typical El Niño winter for Texas is usually near normal.

Based on previous El Niño and La Niña years dating back to 1990, there is a noticeable trend with which phase provides sharper, colder temperatures and more freezes. And that is the La Niña. Of the 14 winters since 1990 with a La Niña present, each saw temperatures drop below 32 degrees, and the average number of freezes per winter was around 10 days. Of the 10 El Niño winters we've seen since 1990, nine out of the 10 saw temperatures drop below 32 degrees, and the average number of freezes per winter was only six. Similarly, the average lowest temperature for those La Niña winters is 23 degrees and 27.9 degrees for the El Niño winters.

Now, that doesn't mean southeast Texas won't see any cold blasts or freezes this winter. But following this trend set in place by recent history, this winter might not be as harsh when it does cool down with less frequent cold blasts overall.

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