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El Niño is here. Now what?

El Nino 2023

A simple graphic from the National Weather Service depicts the basic effects of El Niño on the United States.

El Niño is here, but what does that mean for the Highland Lakes? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared on Thursday, June 8, that the cyclical climate pattern had emerged and is expected to bring a change to the region’s weather. 

According to the NOAA, the arrival of El Niño likely means wetter-than-average weather for Central Texas, especially in the fall and winter. El Niño is part of a natural climate shift that occurs every two to seven years, caused by warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean.

​”Depending on its strength, El Niño can cause a range of impacts, such as increasing the risk of heavy rainfall and droughts in certain locations around the world,” said Climate Prediction Center climate scientist Michelle L’Heureux in a media release issued by the NOAA on Thursday.

The southern part of the United States, from California to the Gulf of Mexico, typically sees heavy rainfall during El Niño, while the northern part of the country, from the Pacific Northwest to the Ohio Valley, sees hotter, drier weather.

El Niño is part of a climate cycle that fluctuates between three different phases: El Niño, ENSO-Neutral, and La Niña. For Central Texas, ENSO-Neutral means average weather and is a transitional period where the cycle hovers before dipping into either El Niño or La Niña. La Niña typically means hotter, drier weather for Central Texas. After three consecutive years of La Niña, the pattern shifted into neutral in March, and the NOAA predicted El Niño would arrive within six months. 

This climate shift could mark the end of a vicious drought that has especially affected Central Texas since September 2021. has extensively covered the effects of the drought in its Troubled Water series, which focuses on water management, lake levels, groundwater concerns, and the impact of water conservation on the Highland Lakes.

The last El Niño occurred in 2018-19, and it was a weak one, according to the Water Education Foundation. However, it might have been responsible for the enormous amount of rain that caused the flooding of the Llano and Colorado rivers in the fall of 2018.

The media release from the NOAA predicts that the current El Niño has an 84 percent chance of being above-average in strength and a 56 percent chance of becoming strong. The stronger El Niño is, the more likely it will rain.

Despite the onset of El Niño, the Highland Lakes is expected to get triple-digit temperatures in the coming days. El Niño’s effects are normally most powerful in the fall, winter, and spring with summer still maintaining its hot, brutal chokehold from late June through early September.