Flash flooding, especially in southern California. Severe weather in the south-central and southeastern states. Arctic cold and one or two sizable East Coast snowstorms. These are among the hazards people may face this winter thanks in part to El Niño..

This year’s El Niño phenomenon is one of the strongest in decades, according to the National Weather Service.


It warmed a swath of the tropical Pacific, where sea surface temperatures averaged 2.3 degrees Celsius (4.14 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal in October, November and December. That ties the record set in 1997.

El Niño was expected to influence the weather this winter by affecting the position of the Pacific jet stream, according to an October 15 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration press release.

We’re already seeing some crazy El Niño weather now.

Baby, it’s wet outside

Evan Duffey, a meteorologist at AccuWeather.com in State College, Pennsylvania, told SafeBee the nation’s southern tier has already been “very wet” this winter due to El Niño.

“The only downside is, especially in California when these [storms] come onshore, there can be a lot of flash flooding issues,” he says. “But for the most part, it’s going to be beneficial for them. They really need it [the rain].”

Flash flood warnings and watches were in effect in central Ventura County in southwestern California and in the San Francisco Bay area on Wednesday. Daily rainfall records were set at the Los Angeles and Camarillo airports on Tuesday.

Related: Deadly Storms in U.S. History (and What They Taught Us about Storm Safety)

Things are likely to stay wet all winter for many people. A Climate Prediction Center outlook through March says there are increased chances of above-average precipitation in California, the Southwest, the central and southern Great Plains, the lower Mississippi Valley and from the Southeast to southern New England.

“The wet pattern should not really let up at all across the South throughout the rest of the winter,” says Duffey.

Look for abundant snowfall in the Sierra Mountains and the mountains of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada and Utah, he says.

Cold to blast eastern and central U.S. soon but milder than normal winter expected

Paul Pastelok, AccuWeather’s chief long-range meteorologist, posted that "blasts of cold air will sweep in over much of the Central and Eastern states next week."

According to the Climate Prediction Center, part of the Northeast and part of the Midwest may see heavy snow this weekend.

But overall, across the northern continental U.S. the winter looks warmer than usual according to a December 17 Climate Prediction Center long-range outlook.Above-normal temperatures are also favored in most of Alaska.

“The East Coast will probably see a good snowstorm or two in late January, February, but again, it’s not looking as bad as normal,” says Duffey.

Related: SafeBee's Top Winter Safety Tips

Watch for severe weather in the south

“There tends to be a slight uptick in severe weather, especially across Florida, during El Niño,” says Duffey. “We’ve seen some interesting severe weather over the past few months from Texas over to the southeastern United States.”

On Dec. 26, 12 confirmed tornadoes killed 11 people in the Dallas, Texas, region, according to the National Weather Service.

Related: How to Survive a Tornado

Todd B. Bates, a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Public Service, is a freelance environmental, health and science writer and investigative reporter. He was a staff reporter for New Jersey newspapers for nearly 35 years. His most recent assignment was covering the environment and severe weather as a member of the Investigations Team at the Asbury Park Press.