As of late August – the most recent data available - the average of the group of forecast models used to predict the intensity of El Niño are signaling the strongest event in nearly 20 years, perhaps even challenging the record-strong El Niño of 1997-1998.
El Nino, which is a measure of how abnormally warm the tropical Pacific Ocean is, can be classified as "very strong" if surface waters are running at least 2° Celsius warmer than average for at least three consecutive months. Such classifications are rare, having occurred only twice before; but it's looking more like this year will not only reach that threshold, but exceed it – perhaps by a wide margin.
A combination of global forecast models are used to help predict the future intensity of El Niño. Some are "dynamic," meaning they take actual current global conditions and physically attempt to define what they will look like in the future. Others are "statistical," meaning they predict the future based on what happened during a similar situations in the past.
Once a month, these models are compiled by NOAA and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society. And month after month for some time now, they've continued to predict a stronger and stronger El Niño for this fall and winter.
Many are banking on the forecast verifying.
Weather watchers in the drought-stricken West, particularly in California, are on stand-by for a major increase in much-needed rain and snow this winter – again, it the forecast pans out.
On the East Coast, an epic El Niño could mean a very wet winter, but not necessarily a snowy winter. Interestingly, El Niño increases the moisture supply in the eastern US, but it also tends to keep the polar jet — and most of its cold air — farther north. Colder temperatures would likely result as well, but due primarily more cloud cover / less sunshine.
In a practical sense, it would mean more rain for the Carolinas, which would certainly be welcome news. As for snow lovers, the pattern would not be ideal for a gaggle of snowstorms, but with an abundance of moisture in place more often than not, it would only take one or two outbreaks of cold air to swing far enough south to "marry up" with the moisture and create a winter wonderland across the WBTV viewing area.
Time will tell about that, and so, for now at least, I'd advise school kids to do their homework!