If the snow-shovelling marathons and constant cold weather alerts wore you down this winter, you'll be happy to hear this: Climatologists are predicting that next winter will probably be a warm one.
That's because an El Nino with the tendency to send warm breezes toward North America appears to be building in the Pacific Ocean, reports the Climate Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Many Canadians will find that a welcome change after an unusually cold and snowy winter, blamed in part on the weakening of a polar vortex spinning above the North Pole.
El Nino is the name given to a short-term climate disruption cause by unusually high temperatures on the surface of the Pacific Ocean near the equator.
"Sometimes it means a pretty calm and benign kind of winter," said Dave Phillips, a senior climatologist with Environment Canada, in an interview with CBC's Calgary Eyeopener.
Phillips said the main effects tend to be felt in Canada in the form of a shorter winter "that tends to have more warm spells than cold spells."
For example, the El Nino of 1997 and 1998 produced the sixth warmest winter in Canada in 66 years.
"So if it performs like that one, we won't be shovelling and bundling up as much as we did this past winter."
According to the most recent El Nino forecast from NOAA, from mid-March to mid-April, sea surface temperatures were higher than average above most of the equatorial Pacific.
Phillips said trade winds that generally blow from east to west are beginning to slacken and may be readying to switch direction. He added, "These are the precursors for the emergence of El Nino."
According to NOAA, many models are now predicting an El Nino sometime during the summer or fall.
"Despite this greater model consensus," the agency cautioned, "there remains considerable uncertainty as to when El Nino will develop and how strong it may become."