Tuesday, January 19, 2016   |   Critical Weather

El Niño Still Going Strong: What Tools Can Help Explain the Phenomenon?

Over the past month, El Niño has likely been a main contributor to some fairly rare and damaging weather events. Flooding and tornadoes in the southern U.S., heavy rain and severe weather in southern California, substantial amounts of snow in the western mountains of Oregon and Washington—all of these events have people asking the same questions: “Is this because of El Niño?” and more importantly, “What is El Niño, anyway?”

As a broadcast meteorologist, it’s important to be prepared with an arsenal of tools that explain El Niño and help an audience prepare for the resulting weather.


According to Google Trends, the number of searches for El Niño has shot up tremendously as people are trying to understand what it is and how it can affect them.

Steve Bray, Director of Broadcast Meteorology, says that there are several Baron tools that can be useful when discussing the effects of El Niño.

“Meteorologists need to have the right tools to explain El Niño and its significance,” said Bray. “Many people throw the term ‘El Niño’ around as a scapegoat for every unusual weather event that happens, but many don’t understand what El Niño is and how it typically affects the United States. It’s difficult to define which of the strange weather events is directly related to El Niño.”

“Monitoring sea surface temperatures is useful when talking about the warming of equatorial waters, but it’s the impacts of El Niño that need to be observed and explained to have a well-informed audience.”

During a typical El Niño pattern, the southern states in the U.S. are prone to severe storms, while the northern Midwest is warmer and drier than average. Increased amounts of rainfall, flooding, and heavy snow are all expected results of El Niño. While this can vary tremendously, these are usually the types of weather events that meteorologists expect to cover during an El Niño year.

Take Advantage of Explainer Graphics and Animations


The Baron Support Site recently added new El Niño graphics available for download. “The graphics we have will help explain what El Niño is to an audience,” said Bray. “We have one animation that visually explains how the El Niño cycle works. We also have another set of graphics that can be partnered with it to show the impacts it would have on the United States during a typical El Niño pattern.”

While the effects of El Niño can vary, the graphics serve to enlighten an audience about what El Niño is, how it forms, and what typical weather events can be expected in the U.S. “Normally, we also send out graphics that emulate the 30 and 90-day outlooks from the National Weather Service. Those can be useful, too.”

To download the graphics, visit the Baron Support Site here. They are also avialble for download directly from Omni.

Gathering Accurate Rainfall Estimates


Record rainfall amounts led to extreme flooding in Alabama, middle and lower Mississippi, and the Tennessee Valley during the week of Christmas 2015.

“One of the most useful tools that meteorologists can use to explain flooding events is our Dual-pol Rain Accumulations,” said Bray. Baron’s Dual-pol Rain Accumulation data and techniques are used to generate precision rainfall amount estimates, as we see in the image above when we compare dual-pol estimates in white to actual gauge readings in black. This can improve short-term flood forecasting. It uses different dual-pol variables to help calculate rain rates, leading to more accurate precipitation accumulations.

“People have been concerned about the drought problem in Southern California, as well,” said Bray. “El Niño is already starting to bring rainfall—but too much of a good thing can be dangerous. Meteorologists can monitor rain accumulations to warn the public of possible flooding and mudslides. Large amounts of dry earth and heavy rain can lead to some less-than-ideal conditions.”

Pinpoint and Inform during Unusual Severe Weather


Picture4Severe thunderstorms and a few tornadoes were observed in southern California the first week of January, including a powerful supercell thunderstorm which moved across metro San Diego (pictured above).

Baron products, like Shear Markers, Storm Tracks, De-Aliased Velocity, and Shear Rate show forecasters where the most dangerous parts of storms are located—even in areas that don’t typically receive severe thunderstorms.

“When unusual severe weather events happen, we have an entire suite of data products that would be able to handle it,” said Kevin Nugent, Forecast Meteorologist at Baron. “With them, meteorologists can accurately predict the location and directional movement of tornadoes and severe storms.”

Having a clear picture of dangerous weather—at a hyper-local level—can make it much easier to warn an audience when unexpected weather hits. Baron’s patented storm tracking technology helps determine a storm’s potential, and pinpoints the greatest threats that are hidden within.

Monitoring Heavy Snowfall


Normally an issue for the southern states during El Niño, heavy amounts of snow can impede travel, damage homes and create many potentially dangerous situations.

Over the past month, very heavy snow amounts (pictured above) have occurred in the western mountains. Snow Accumulation products show the locations and the amounts of snow that have fallen over specific time periods—ranging from the past hour to the past 24 hours.

“The Snow Machine data calculates the snow rate, based on how strong the precipitation appears in reflectivity,” said Nugent. Other tools for winter weather help provide an immediate assessment of a snow event’s activity. The products are backed by dual-polarization technology, helping distinguish between different precipitation types—like snow, sleet, freezing rain, and ice—so it’s easier to forecast winter events with precision.

What Can We Expect as El Niño Continues?

“Predicting how a particular El Niño will behave is difficult—weather changes quickly,” said Bray. “El Niño creates more weather in different parts of the country. I expect to see some of the same things we have already been seeing. I also think there is potential for more severe weather in the south during the spring. We will be keeping an eye on that.”

To read more about El Niño can affect the weather, read our previous article here.