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NOAA satellite image of El Niño taken Jan. 6, 2003. The warm sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean are represented in red.January 9, 2003 — The climate phenomenon El Niño has reached its “mature stage” and will linger through the end of spring, according to forecasters at the NOAA National Weather Service. The NOAA Climate Prediction Center, which issued the latest El Niño outlook today, reported that sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean remained greater than 1 degree C (2 degrees F) above average in December. Temperatures below the surface were above normal in the eastern Pacific, while cold subsurface temperatures were recorded in the western equatorial Pacific. (Click NOAA satellite image for larger view of El Niño taken Jan. 6, 2003. The warm sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean are represented in red. Please credit “NOAA.”)

“These sea surface temperatures indicate the mature phase of El Niño is in place,” said Jim Laver, director of the CPC. El Niño occurs when sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean remain above average for more than several months. This usually triggers atmospheric and weather changes around the globe.

NOAA image of Climate Prediction Center 2003 seasonal outlook for January-March.Prediction Through March
Forecasters expect El Niño to continue to bring: drier-than-average conditions around the Ohio Valley states and northern Rockies; wetter-than-average conditions along much of the southern tier of the nation and, warmer-than-average temperatures across the northern tier states, southern and southeastern Alaska. (Click NOAA image for larger view of Climate Prediction Center 2003 seasonal outlook for January-March. Click here for high resolution version, which is a large file. Please credit “NOAA.”)

“Typically, El Niño impacts on the U.S. are strongest during the winter and early spring due to changes in the jet stream, and the pattern of storm activity,” said the CPC’s Vernon Kousky, NOAA’s lead El Niño forecaster. He added this El Niño will continue to remain weaker than the strong 1997-98 version.

El Niño’s Benefits
In recent weeks, El Niño has contributed much-needed precipitation to many parched areas of the country. For example, fall and winter storms along the Gulf and East Coasts have nearly ended the drought from Texas to Georgia, and along the entire East Coast.

The precipitation has many wells and reservoirs in the East at near normal levels, with some even above-normal.

Drought Conditions Hang On
In interior sections of the Southeast, some wells and reservoirs still remain below normal. In California, rain and snow have been plentiful. While the snow pack has increased to above-normal levels, drought conditions remain throughout sections of the interior West and Great Plains.

Drought has continued with little improvement in most of Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. Colorado has experienced early-season snows, but much more is needed for significant drought relief, Laver said.

Also, below-normal rain and snow for the past few months has not brought drought relief for North and South Dakota and Nebraska, and there has been little relief for drought-weary sections of Missouri and Kansas. Drought conditions extend from Michigan into southern Iowa, and could expand both northward and southward in coming months.

The Climate Prediction Center is one of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, which is part of the NOAA National Weather Service. The Climate Prediction Center predicts and monitors El Niño and also produces the nation’s official long-range outlooks and medium-range weather forecasts.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation’s coastal and marine resources. NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA's Climate Prediction Center

El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Diagnostic Discussion

El Niño to Play Role in Nation’s Fall, Winter Weather

Weekly El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Update

Most Recent 2 Months Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly Animation

El Niño and La Niña-related Winter Features over North America

NOAA's El Niño Theme Page

NOAA's El Niño Home Page



ENSO Fact Sheet

ENSO Frequently Asked Questions

ENSO Tutorial

ENSO Recent Events

Sea Surface Temperature Outlook

ENSO Impacts by Region

NOAA's Storm Watch — Get the latest severe weather information across the USA

NOAA's Drought Information Center

Media Contact:
Carmeyia Gillis, NOAA Climate Prediction Center, (301) 763-8000 ext. 7163 or John Leslie, NOAA National Weather Service, (301) 713-0622