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Adios, El Niño?

A bar graph from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows the high likelihood that El Niño will end in the spring and La Niña will begin in the summer or fall of 2024. 

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a fast-fading El Niño that will likely be gone by the end of spring, heralding a return to hotter, drier weather in the summer and fall of 2024. 

The February report shows a 79 percent chance of El Niño ending sometime between April and June and a 55 percent chance of La Niña developing between June and August. That rises to 70 percent between August and October.

El Niño officially developed in June 2023, according to the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, bringing an end to three straight years of La Niña. El Niño is typically associated with wetter, cooler weather in Central Texas during the winter, while La Niña usually means warmer, drier weather. They are interrelated climate patterns dictated by the surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean and have global impacts on weather.

According to NWS meteorologist Eric Platt, the three consecutive years of La Niña likely contributed to the extreme drought that has had a stranglehold on Central Texas since 2021.

“We actually got out of a triple dip,” he told, referring to the three years. “We got out of that now, but now we’re transitioning back to La Niña. The dry part of (those La Niña years) certainly reared their ugly heads. We’re just hoping for some spring rains to pull us closer to normal.”

Platt explained that current NWS long-range forecasts show near-normal precipitation is likely in the spring across the Highland Lakes, which could be the region’s last shot at adding any water to its depleted reservoirs.

The combined water storage capacity of lakes Buchanan and Travis, the two major reservoirs and water supplies for the Highland Lakes, is 43 percent, or 850,624 acre-feet out of 1,995,432 acre-feet. Despite an El Niño winter, the lakes rose very little from their low of 40 percent combined storage in October 2023.