Strong El Nino Brings All Or Nothing Snow in Winter

Strong El Nino Brings All Or Nothing Snow in Winter

MapElNinoWinterThe warm start to November may have put off thoughts of winter for some, but the question keeps coming up: What is this winter going to be like? There have been many outlooks already posted and many related to El Nino. It is the buzz term of the year and will be a major player. My personal winter outlook involves plenty of other factors, and I will have that ready by mid November. But I want to provide all the information leading up to it to help explain what is involved. This post is a follow up to my El Nino Snow and the Baltimore Orioles. It expands a little farther in time but shows the same thing. Strong El Nino will bring Baltimore a lot of snow, or almost none. There has not been any middle ground.

Note: I feel compelled to share the infamous Chris Farley El Nino video every time I post something about this topic. It never gets old. So in honor of our lost comic hero, see that at the bottom of this post.

Strong El Nino Years

Since 1950, the National Weather Service has identified 6 events out of 19 that were considered a strong El Nino and related to the intensity of this year’s event. The following charts display the meteorological winter at BWI defined as December, January , and February complete months. The parameters of temperature, precipitation, and snowfall were broken down separately.


A weak El Nino often leads to a cooler winter. But the large warm pool in the Pacific translates to a warmer than normal winter for Baltimore. That does not factor in potential arctic outbreaks which can be directed by other factors in the North Atlantic. I will address that in a follow up article.






Another element of El Nino goes hand in hand with the temperature factor. It comes with the energy flow that brings plenty of moisture with it. Of the six strong El Nino’s, five of them had above normal precipitation. So odds are that it will be stormy. But what will those storms bring? You might be surprised. Read on…






This is the fun part, or maybe not? Faith in the Flakes or a whole lot of nothing. In my article El Nino Snow and the Baltimore Orioles, I made the connection (for fun) of Heavy snow winters with an El Nino and the Baltimore Orioles wining the world series the following year. But other years ‘when they made the playoffs’, they didn’t go all the way. That was when the snow was low. Very low in fact!

Of the six strongest El Nino years at play, three had very high snowfall and three had the lowest on record. This chart includes all El Nino events. The historical range shows as little as below 5 inches or many years well over 30 inches.

This snowfall graphic has the season total on the left, and the monthly breakdown on the right. Note the early winter surge, almost absent January, and resurgence in February. The early start to winter goes along with the Winter Weather Folklore: A Warm November means a harsh winter.




Spread of snow

This Box and Whiskers plot shows the range across the data set. On the right, the Strong El Nino has the widest spread of all categories. Remember I said ‘all or nothing’? I’ve included moderate to strong El Nino years from last decade that stand out. Check this out:


ElNino_Winter_Snow_Spread_BaltimoreHigh Snow El Nino Winters in Baltimore

77.0” in 2009-2010*

58.1” in 2002-2003

43” in 1957-1958

35.6” in 1982-1983

35.2” in 1986-1987

32.8” in 1965-1966

*(still under debate as NWS lowered the totals during the first February Blizzard before the end of the storm) I must be honest. This is a small dataset and the two blizzards in early February 2010 that gave BWI 50 inches of snow threw off the numbers.

Low Snow El Nino Winters In Baltimore

1.2” In 1972-1973

3.2” in 1997-1998

4.1 in 1991-1992

How to read the Box and Whiskers Chart:

The bottom of the boxes represent the 25th percentile, meaning 25 percent of winters had snowfall amounts less than that value. The top and bottom of the lines represent the maximum and minimum observed winter snowfall values, respectively. The stars show the median snowfall amounts.

Reminder: My Winter 2015-2016 Outlook should be read by the middle of November. I have a lot more info to share leading up to that post.  Check out these links already shared:

Winter Outlooks

Farmers Almanacs Winter Outlooks Favor Snow

El Nino Snow And The Baltimore Orioles

El Nino 2015 Is Too Big To Fail

El Nino 2015 Compared to 1997 By NOAA: Strongest On Record?


Chris Farley- The Other El Nino

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Chip KidWxDevicesGet the award winning Kid Weather App I made with my oldest son and support our love for science, weather, and technology. Our 3 year anniversary of the release and our contribution to STEM education is this November. It has been downloaded in 60 countries, and works in both temperature scales. With your support we can expand on the fun introduction to science and real weather.

November 4th, 2015|Tags: , , , , , , , , |