El Niño may be on its way. Here's what that could mean for Pueblo and southern Colorado

Scientists and meteorologists around the world expect a major disruption to weather patterns with global reverberations will likely return this year.

After three straight years of La Niña, El Niño appears to be on its way.

Here's how it could affect Pueblo and southern Colorado.

In-depth graphics: El Niño could return in 2023; what that means for the world's weather

What is El Niño?

El Niño is an occasional weather pattern where waters along South America in the Pacific Ocean are warmer than usual while trade winds are weaker. During El Niño's inverse pattern, La Niña, water stays cooler and the winds are stronger, according to Becky Bolinger, Colorado’s assistant state climatologist.

Kyle Mozley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo, said the disruption of weather patterns that come from El Niño have effects around the world, including drier conditions in Indonesia and Australia.

Climatologists are now expecting an El Niño pattern in 2023, after three years of La Niña.

These graphics show the different outcomes caused by the El Nino and La Nina weather patterns.

Bolinger said that during El Niño winters, wetter conditions are expected in the American Southwest and along the Gulf of Mexico while drier conditions are expected in the Pacific Northwest.

But in Colorado, the effects of El Niño tend to be less strong. The state is thousands of miles away from the ocean, so there tend to be additional variables that affect its climate.

“How (El Niño affects climate) as you get further inland and particularly into Colorado, that is a little bit more muddied: there's a lot of things that modify our weather patterns," Bolinger said. "El Niño and La Niña do play one role in that, but there are other puzzle pieces, so it's not a perfect relationship,”

How El Niño could affect Pueblo and southern Colorado

As the fall begins, southern Colorado can expect more moisture from El Niño.

The state can expect somewhat drier winters in the northern mountains and more moisture in the southern mountains from El Niño, Bolinger said.

Mozley said that El Niño’s effects on Southern Colorado can vary depending on when El Niño starts and how strong it is.

When El Niño is less intense, the Eastern Plains tend to get more moisture — but that can go away when the system is stronger. Mozley said that the current water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean indicate this El Niño will be moderate to strong in intensity.

But the mountains in southern Colorado tend to get more precipitation in the fall, Mozley said. That can wane in the early months of the winter, then pick back up again in the spring.

La Niña has been a more consistent pattern within the past two decades, as a simultaneous drought has also gripped most of the state. Any additional moisture that could come from El Niño could be “good news” for Colorado, Bolinger said.

Many river basins around the state recorded above-average snowpack for the past winter season, while the Arkansas River basin stayed below seasonal averages.

Anna Lynn Winfrey is a reporter at the Pueblo Chieftain. She can be reached at awinfrey@gannett.com or on Twitter, @annalynnfrey.

This article originally appeared on The Pueblo Chieftain: How El Niño could impact Pueblo and southern Colorado