Weather Whys Jan. 22, 2015

Courtesy Texas A&M

Q:  You hear a lot about El Niño and La Niña. What’s the difference?
A: The main difference between the two involves water temperature, explains Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. More specifically, El Niño and La Niña – both Spanish for “the child” – refer to anomalies of sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean.  “During an El Niño event, which can last almost a year, the waters in that region are warmer than usual,” he says. “The opposite occurs during a La Niña event – the waters tend to be cooler than usual.  But the important thing is that both events can affect weather patterns in the United States and around the world.”

Q: How do they change our weather?
A:  Both El Niño and La Niña events are more likely to affect the seasonal temperature and precipitation patterns during the winter than in any other season, McRoberts says.  “In general, a La Niña period means drier weather patterns for Texas, whereas El Niño is more likely to bring wetter weather during the cold season. There have been numerous studies done on how El Niño and La Niña affect weather patterns in other seasons, and this includes hurricanes and their intensity. Some research indicates that the types of hurricanes that affect Texas are more common during La Niña periods than during neutral or El Niño periods.”