That means a cooler than average winter with a good chance of above normal precipitation from December to February.
“We expect El Nino to strengthen and persist through the winter months, providing clues as to what the weather will be like during the period,” said Climate Prediction Center Deputy Director Mike Halpert in a release last month. “Warmer ocean water in the equatorial Pacific shifts the patterns of tropical rainfall that in turn change the strength and position of the jetstream and storms over the Pacific Ocean and the U.S.”
“Generally speaking, going by the forecast by the Climate Prediction Center, we’ll have a good chance for below normal temperatures,” said meteorologist Neil Dixon with the Greenville-Spartanburg National Weather Service Office.
And the Upstate South Carolina area, including Union County, is right on the fringe of precipitation outlooks which means it could go either way.
“Typically, with a stronger El Nino, we can see a good chance of greater than normal days of precipitation,” Dixon said.
According to the CPC, from 1948-2006, on average during a strong or moderate El Nino cycle in the Pacific the Upstate and much of the U.S. Southeast can see at least three days more where daily precipitation — usually in the form of freezing rain, sleet or snow — reaches more than half an inch from November to March.
Union County and the Upstate usually see between 12-14 days each winter when daily precipitation reaches above half an inch when El Nino isn’t much of a factor.
The temperature models are similar for the same time period.
Dixon said, as a whole, El Nino plays a major role in weather patterns in the western portions of the United States but also makes a great impact to the Southeast and Southwest regions.
“With the Southeast, it favors a wetter, cooler pattern,” he said, adding the effects of the strengthening presence of warming Pacific waters may already have been felt in the Upstate.
Fall is normally a time when the area dries out but September and October saw record rainfall amounts in several locations around the Upstate, including setting some new daily rainfall records in the Charlotte area, that forced rivers out of their banks and flash flooding in many communities.
“I think we can attribute that to El Nino,” Dixon said.
He said the Upstate and western North Carolina can typically see weather events that blanket the areas with between one and two inches of snow. In fact, there’s nearly a 100 percent chance Union County and the surrounding area will see these types of events this winter.
With El Nino as a factor, the number of those events could increase depending on how the National Weather Service models hold up.
“The main influence to our winter season does look like being El Nino,” Dixon said. “So you can expect to see some of those typical effects.”
So make sure the shovels are ready and the salt is on standby because El Nino looks like it will rear its head this winter, giving the area a better than normal chance at more precipitation and chilly temperatures.
WINTER WEATHER SAFETY:
Here are a few tips from the South Carolina Emergency Management Division to stay safe during winter storms:
n Use extra caution when traveling on icy or snow-covered roads.
n Keep exposure to cold weather to a minimum.
n When the weather is cold, don’t go outdoors unless you have to. If you must go out, dress in layers and cover your ears, head and hands.
n Stock up on heating fuel and prepare emergency heating sources like fireplaces, wood stoves and space heaters.
n Never burn charcoal briquettes indoors.
n Remember the usual emergency supplies: Flashlight and batteries, battery-powered radio, extra non-perishable food and water, extra medicines and baby items and first-aid supplies.
n Top off the fuel tank in your car, check the antifreeze and keep in mind that driving conditions during the winter can become extremely hazardous due to icy roads and bridges.
n Prepare a place indoors for pets. Move farm animals to shelters and have extra feed and water available.
n Use extreme caution when operating a portable generator. Be sure to read the owner’s manual first. Do NOT operate a generator indoors or in any confined space — exhaust fumes can be very dangerous.
South Carolina Winter Preparedness Week is slated for Dec. 7-11.
TYPICAL WINTER WEATHER:
Meteorologist Neil Dixon with the Greenville-Spartanburg National Weather Service Office said typical Upstate South Carolina winters include storms with a variety of impacts.
“Usually a storm goes through an evolution,” he said.
Winter storms can start out as snow, but as temperatures warm that precipitation becomes sleet and freezing rain. With cold-air damming — where cold air gets trapped on the eastern slopes of the Appalachians — more often than not, Union County and the surrounding areas experience the wetter of the mix as precipitation begins falling at cold altitudes as snow, melts in a band of warmer air and then refreezes before it hits the ground in this area.
THE BIG ONES:
There were a couple winter storms that stuck out in meteorologist Neil Dixon’s head from the past several years as big ones, downing powerlines and wreaking havoc on the Greenville-Spartanburg National Weather Service Office territory, which includes Union County.
Dec. 15, 2005:
n An ice storm started at 7 a.m. and ended the same day at 4 p.m. but in its wake was $250,000 worth of property damage. According to information from the National Climatic Data Center, by late morning the ice storm had become quite serious, downing thousands of trees and causing widespread power outages. Ice depths of between one-half inch to three-quarters inch were reported in several locations and Duke Power estimated costs for overtime and powerline repair to more than 200,000 customers at $72 million.
Dec. 4, 2002:
n This ice storm lasted nearly a day from 3 p.m. Dec. 4 to 7 a.m. Dec. 5. The intensity of the freezing rain increased after midnight and by dawn on Dec. 5, according to the NCDC, ice accumulations of one-half inch to one and one-half inches were observed. The hardest hit areas were in a swath along the Interstate 85 corridor from Anderson to Greenville-Spartanburg to Gaffney. Hundreds of thousands lost power and outages lasted for as long as two weeks in some areas. The storm racked up $100 million in property damage.