March 4, 2010 — A lot of mystery surrounds El Niño. Especially after a winter like Canada has experienced in 2009/2010.
The strong El Niño winter this year meant record warm temperatures in the west, barely any snow in central Canada and a parade of lows in the east.
So how does it all work?
El Niño is a term that refers to a large scale climate event that occurs in the tropical Pacific Ocean every few years. It's given the name El Niño because is means 'little boy' in Spanish and you can start to see the effects of it around Christmas time. It can alter global weather enough so that Canada generally experiences milder winters.
And that's exactly what happened this year.
Although winter was a little harsher across the country during the month of December, El Niño certainly kicked into gear in January and February. Chris Scott is a meteorologist at The Weather Network and explains why this pattern is so important. 'If you warm up a vast stretch of water in the Pacific you're going to change the air above it. You put in more warmth and moisture. That means the air is rising more and increasing thunderstorms in this part of the Pacific. If that happens, you’re going to change the air around it.'
And that air is what changes the jet stream. According to Scott, the jet stream dishes out where the precipitation is and where it will be warm and cold.
Here's an easy way to look at it.
Scott says think of it like a household budget. 'You've got so much money to go around, and someone says we're going to spend on this, we're going to spend on that. That's what the jet stream does, it's what El Niño tends to dictate.'
There's only so much warmth and precipitation to go around in one season so 'the jet stream decides where that precipitation is going to fall. This year just happened to be that it was all in the states as opposed to in Canada,' says Scott.
The weakening El Niño pattern continues to affect British Columbia, and the west coast can expect a warmer and drier spring and summer. The hurricane season in Atlantic Canada is also usually less active during an El Niño year.
For more information on what you can expect this spring make sure you tune into The Weather Network on TV to catch our official Spring Outlook.