You may have heard of the term El Niño in the news when the newscast focuses on the Pacific Ocean or the western United States along it’s coast. However, did you know that this weather phenomenon can actually affect the Gulf Coast?

“In the most general of terms when El Niño sets in, we tend to be wetter than average and a bit warmer,” said Meteorologist Steve Miller with the National Weather Service in Mobile. “I can’t say always, because Mother Nature has a way of surprising us, but over the whole summer you will have generally more rain.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “El Niño and La Niña are opposite phases of what is known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation(ENSO)cycle.” The site explains that this cycle is responsible for fluctuations in temperature between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific and can cause major international weather changes.

Because El Niño occurs irregularly between two to seven years and can last anywhere from nine to 12 months at a time, meteorologists study past El Niño events when making new projections.

According to, this winter is projected to bring one of the strongest El Niño events the world has seen in the past 50 years. This may be good news for California, as wetter weather may help alleviate the long term drought in that area, but how will this weather impact Northwest Florida?

 “It’s generally on the bigger scale, and it alters where things go,” said Miller. “With the winds, if you have more storms coming this way you will get more rain. Higher pressure leads to warmer temperatures and when they are warmer they alter the flow such that we will tend to get more storms and pulses coming our direction.”

Miller told The Log that it is hard to pinpoint the implications of El Niño for a localized geographical area as the weather phenomenon is researched by scientists on the global scale.

“It’s just one of those things that happens on a bigger scale,” said Miller. “Not just looking at one little area that we are used to living in; it’s more international; a world scope sort of thing.”

So what is the takeaway from this. Can we expect a change in Northwest Florida weather this year?

Considering recent moderate to strong El Niño events, projects that the Northern Gulf Coast will be cooler and wetter going into the fall and winter months.

Here is their national breakdown:

Wetter: Southern U.S. from California to the Carolinas then up parts of the East Coast

Drier: Parts of the Ohio Valley, Great Lakes, Northwest and Northern Rockies

Cooler: Desert Southwest, Southern Plains, northern Gulf Coast

Warmer:Northern tier of states from the Pacific Northwest to the Northern Plains, Great Lakes, and Northeast