The lack of an El Niño-influenced weather pattern could play a role in this winter’s precipitation shortage, Mary Knapp, state climatologist with the Weather Data Library at Kansas State University, said. The area remains in a severe drought, although that status recently was upgraded from an exceptional drought, she said.
“It’s not really the drought situation that’s going to influence the winter weather,” Knapp said from her office in Manhattan. “What we’ve been looking at is what global models might indicate would hold true for our winter.”
The global models were showing the possibility of winter weather being affected by an El Niño, or the abnormal warming of surface ocean waters in the eastern tropical Pacific, which can cause the jet stream to shift and produce precipitation. An El Niño typically brings with it wetter-than-usual weather, Knapp said, however, the models have begun to change.
“El Niño has since faded rather rapidly,” Knapp said. “It’s not to say that we may not have a wet winter, but the odds have been reduced to favor that.”
Kansas is not known to have a lot of precipitation in the winter, and any would be welcome. But even normal winter moisture won’t erase the underlying deficiencies caused by the drought, Knapp said. The drought continues to plague the area, and there is little chance for changes in the near future, she said. The Ottawa area’s average yearly rainfall totals are about 40 inches. As of Monday, the Ottawa Water Treatment Plant had recorded less than 20 inches in 2012.
“It’s unlikely that we will see any major improvements in the next couple of weeks because there’s not anything on tap for major rainfalls,” the climatologist said.
The global models, Knapp said, do not give a clear picture about what the temperatures will do this winter. The fact that the past winter’s temperatures were relatively mild does not mean this winter will be mild, she said. In fact, even with the latest round of warm weather, October has been about 3 degrees below average for east-central Kansas, Knapp said.
“What we might very well see is very dramatic swings in temperatures as frontal systems move through,” Knapp said.