La Niña vs. El Niño: What these weather patterns mean for Florida and hurricane season

Why weather phenomenon in the Pacific means more storms for the Atlantic

Palm trees sway in the wind in front of historic Art Deco hotels, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, on Miami Beach, Florida's famed South Beach. A strengthening Tropical Storm Eta cut across Cuba on Sunday, and forecasters say it's likely to be a hurricane before hitting the Florida Keys Sunday night or Monday. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) (Wilfredo Lee, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Summer’s almost here and the climate’s right for hurricanes.

While we keep our eyes on the tropical Atlantic this summer, it is conditions out in the Pacific that are dictating the severity of our hurricane season.

This comes as La Niña’s three-year run officially ended and the Climate Prediction Center officially designated ENSO-neutral conditions.

The Climate Prediction Center is favoring an El Niño to develop by the peak of hurricane season (August, September, October).

Forecasters at Colorado State University expect 13 named storms, six of which are predicted to become hurricanes, with two of those becoming major. Major hurricane status is category 3 (111 mph winds or greater).

La-Niña is defined when waters in the equatorial Pacific off of the coast of Peru become .5 degrees (or greater) Celsius cooler than normal. (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

The difference between El Niño, La Niña

El Niño and La Niña are actually two phases of a weather phenomenon known as the “ENSO cycle.” ENSO stands for “El Niño-Southern Oscillation.”

The ENSO cycle is a climate pattern off the coast of Peru in South America, in the Pacific Ocean. The pattern shifts back and forth every 2-7 years, and how it shifts affects weather patterns all over the world.

During an El Niño phase, ocean temperatures in that part of the Pacific are warmer than the atmosphere.

El Niño favors a less active hurricane season (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

During a La Niña phase, the ocean temperatures are cooler than the atmosphere.

Each phase influences atmospheric conditions around the world in different ways.

How the ENSO Cycle in the Pacific affects the Atlantic

In the case of an El Niño phase, circulation expands eastward, creating conditions that produce a trough over the Caribbean and the western Atlantic. This leads to increased vertical wind shear and increased atmospheric stability. Hurricanes do not like vertical wind shear -- it tends to rip storms apart and prevent them from strengthening.

In a La Niña phase, the opposite occurs. La Niña creates conditions that suppress that vertical wind shear. This creates conditions that allow hurricanes to thrive.

La Niña tends to help increase tropical activity. (Copyright 2022 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

The more chances there are of a named storm, the greater the chance of a storm making landfall on the U.S. coast.

That’s not all La Niña does. It’s a factor in increased severe weather and tornado activity in the southeastern U.S.

Here’s what to expect for the 2023 hurricane season

Right now, La Niña’s three-year run officially ended and ENSO-neutral conditions were designated.

The 2023 hurricane season will likely feature an El Niño weather pattern. El Niño, especially a strong El Niño, tends to suppress tropical development in the Atlantic Basin by increasing wind shear, which is detrimental to the development of tropical systems.

Water temperatures across much of the Atlantic Basin, however, are running above normal. Warm water helps to fuel tropical systems, which is why it is important to remember it only takes one.

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About the Author:

Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.