Florida keeps eye on possible El Nino

Will El Niño develop by this summer and potentially make for another relatively quiet hurricane season?

Several forecast models say "there's an increasing chance" that could happen, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

El Niño is the large-scale atmospheric pattern that knocks down tropical systems.

"It's been awhile since we had El Niño – 2009 – so from a timescale argument, one would expect to get one soon," said Phil Klotzbach, a climatologist with Colorado State University who develops seasonal predictions.


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Another positive note: Neither El Niño nor its polar opposite, La Niña, have developed in the past three years and historically, whenever neutral conditions have persisted for two or more seasons, El Niño has broken the streak.

"That means we're likely looking at a continuation of neutral conditions or El Niño," said Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Md.

All of it would seem to be good news for Florida, by far the most storm-battered state in the nation.

Just the same, Halpert noted hurricane season is six months away, and the models won't have a good handle on this summer's atmospheric conditions until April or May.

El Niño develops when sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Eastern Pacific Ocean become abnormally warm. That creates strong upper-level wind shear which can weaken tropical systems or prevent them from forming.

Nonetheless, strong hurricanes still can form during an El Niño year.

That's something residents of Florida, which has escaped a hurricane hit for a record eight seasons, should keep in mind, Halpert said.

"Certainly people in Florida remember 1992, which was an El Niño year, but the first storm was Andrew," he said.

kkaye@tribune.com or 561-243-6530.