Making Sense of the “Godzilla” El Niño

Posted at 1:27 PM, Aug 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-14 14:27:19-04

WEST MICHIGAN- You probably don’t associate fictional creatures that ravage cities and major weather events, but that seems to be a popular comparison this week.  Recently, Bill Patzert, a climatologist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was quoted as saying, “This definitely has the potential of being the Godzilla El Niño.”

As is so often the case, the internet takes it and runs with it.  But let’s simplify this for you and show how it has the potential to affect West Michigan.

“El Niño” occurs when warmer than average waters in the equatorial Pacific region develop over a period of several months.  This is very common and happens in some fashion every couple of years or so.  What’s the big deal about some warm water in the Pacific, you ask?   When the waters become warmer than just a degree or two, it can have a great impact on weather in the United States.


One of the reasons this is such a headline recently is because of the drought in California over the last several years.  Referring to the map above, you can see that in past stronger El Niño events, California and other areas out west in severe drought have the potential to receive beneficial rainfall.  West Michigan and areas of the Great Lakes region just so happen to lie in the “warm” and “dry” areas of this map.  That’s because the polar jet stream that so often drops down and brings that colder air and disturbed weather is pushed much further north.

So does that mean we are going to be wearing shorts all winter long and have no snow?!  No, it certainly does not.


We will still have our fair share of snow.  The last time we saw a stronger El Niño, we didn’t dip below 0 for the entire winter season.  We even saw a handful of temps in the 50s, including a season high 54 degrees.  At the same time, we still enjoyed 5 feet of snow, which is roughly a foot below average for the season.  History can only provide a guide for us as to what we can expect this winter.  Long range prognostications can only go so far, as you probably know.  It’s hard enough for us to nail things down one week in advance, let alone a full four months in advance.

The best bet in the meantime is to enjoy the summer while it lasts, read the entire story, and root for whatever winter you’d like to enjoy this year!  Who knows…perhaps there will be a little something for everyone!