Winter weather in Mississippi is predicted to be colder and wetter than normal and although it should be a relatively stable pattern, there could be surprises.
"We're in an El Niño pattern which means we'll have cooler, wetter conditions in the South," said Michael Hill, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Jackson. "The jet stream has shifted to the south which means we'll have colder, wetter conditions.
"What happens is we'll get more rain chances, which we need, and we'll get more consistent rain versus more strong rains. It doesn't necessarily mean we'll have more thunderstorms."
According to NOAA, the El Niño pattern began earlier this year and is expected to strengthen this winter. It's a change from recent winters when Mississippi experienced drier, warmer conditions under La Niña patterns.
So, what causes these patterns? Boniface Fosu, assistant professor of meteorology and climate sciences at Mississippi State University explained.
El Niño explained
El Niño is a weather pattern that occurs when water in a tropical area of the Pacific Ocean is warmer than average. The effects of that change in temperature can be felt world-wide.
"Think of throwing a rock in a pond," Fosu said. "When you throw a rock in a pond, the ripples travel a great distance."
In parts of the northern US, it generally means a warmer and drier winter. For the southern parts, it's the opposite. Fosu said the warm Pacific air allows the jet stream to move farther south. That allows colder northern air to move farther south along with it. The jet stream is also bringing moisture, so rainfall increases in the South.
"You're getting the cold and you're getting the moisture from the jet stream," Fosu said.
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What does El Niño mean for Mississippi beyond cold, wet and yucky?
Fosu said there positives associated with El Niño years. The pattern tends to reduce the number of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and reduces the strength of those that do form. It also tends to reduce the numbers of tornadoes, which Mississippi is no stranger to.
It also tends to bring more rain, which the state needs desperately.
"This could bring some much needed relief for Mississippi," Fosu said.
However, that increase in precipitation also brings potential risk.
"So, with more precipitation, there's the risk of flooding events," Fosu said. "That's the other side of it."
Then there's the drier weather to the north. A lack of precipitation over the Mississippi River drainage basin could lead to lower than average water for the Mississippi River.
"You may not see the impact this winter," Fosu said. "It will take several months to see the impact of that. You would see the impact in the spring or after."
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This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Expect to see wet, cold weather in MS this winter due to El Niño