El Nino is a weather phenomenon that is said to play the second-largest role in shaping the weather of the planet, second to only the earth’s orbit around the sun and the changing of the seasons. Here in southeast Saskatchewan, El Nino years are marked by milder temperatures, and a lack of substantial snowfalls, for the most part.  

Terri Lang is a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada. She explained what the general forecast is for the Weyburn area during an El Nino event. 

“A better chance of a warmer than average winter and a drier than average winter,” Lang said, noting winter is the months of December, January and March, technically speaking.  

The current El Nino cycle is forecast to be a strong El Nino. This forecast is determined by surface temperatures in a patch of the Pacific Ocean. The heat from this part of the ocean influences the weather thousands of kilometres away, including here in Saskatchewan.  

In order to be considered a strong El Nino event, the temperatures in that part of the Pacific need to be 1.5° above average. In September, it was 1.6° above average, and in October, it was 1.7° above average. 

The last strong El Nino event was recorded from 2014-16. Those years saw temperatures increasing in the winter, culminating with average daytime temperatures in November of 2016 at 8.4°, which is well above the average of -4°. The conditions are also drier than average during an El Nino event.  

The last El Nino period was 2018-19, which wasn’t as strong as what we saw just 7-9 years ago, but it did lead into a La Nina period, which is when we usually see cooler and wetter winters. This hasn’t always been the case in the Weyburn area for the last few years, which does lead to concerns when it comes to precipitation. Those sorts of conditions are definitely not wanted by agricultural producers, many of whom just experienced a year of drought conditions.  

While El Nino does usually mean a drier than normal winter, it hasn’t always been the case, however. The data collected by NOAA over the past few decades show more than 50 percent of the El Nino events have resulted in a wetter than normal winter – that is from December to February. On average, a strong El Nino can bring between 5-10 centimetres more than average.  

“When we talk about the averages, we say warmer than average and drier than average,” Lang explained of the forecasting. “That doesn’t mean it’s not going to get cold, and it doesn’t mean it’s not going to snow – it's just on average, when we tally things up at the end of the season, that the forecast is generally warmer and drier than average.” 

Not everyone is convinced El Nino will mean a dry winter, though, as Lang pointed out. 

“The Farmer’s Almanac is saying it’s going to be the winter from heck, saying it’s going to be cold and snowy and the whole bit, but we don’t know what they use for their science, if any, because they don’t share that,” she continued. “So I guess we’ll compare notes at the end of the season and see who is right.” 

The temperatures are expected to remain around seasonal for the coming days. You can find all of the details on the Discover Weyburn Weather page.  

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