El Nino and a Delayed 2010 Storm Season

Back in December I wrote a post speculating how El Nino might affect the moisture fetch from the Gulf of Mexico. I wrote as a non-expert, which is always my position regarding weather related stuff, but it appears that my concern about the influence of cooler sea surface temperatures on return flow actually held water.

Tornado season normally begins ramping up in Dixie Alley in February, solidifies in March, peaks in April, then begins to decline in May as the action moves west and north toward traditional Tornado Alley.

Last year the tornado total for February, 2009, was 43. It consisted of six tornado days, two of which were outbreaks of 12 and 21 tornadoes.

This year, the tally for February was a statistically unprecedented zero. That’s no, nada, zippo tornadoes at all last month. Instead, the South experienced record-breaking cold weather, with snow in virtually all of the southern states and a series of brutal winter storms lashing Oklahoma, Texas, and parts of Dixie Alley.

Now we’re into March, and the snow seems to finally be behind us. As I sit here writing, I can look out the sliding doors of my apartment at a beautiful day with temperatures climbing into the mid forties. I’ll take that with a smile, along with the warming trend that’s in store for this coming week here in West Michigan. But at the same time, sampling buoys across the Gulf of Mexico, I see water temperatures in the low to mid fifties and some really horrible dewpoints. It looks a lot like what the ENSO sea surface temperature table has predicted, namely, cooler-than-average temperatures.

We’re presently looking at  systems moving through the Plains that might be tornado breeders if they weren’t starved for moisture. It’s hard to get excited about dewpoints that barely scrape into the low to mid fifties pretty much everywhere except waaay down in southern Texas and Louisiana.

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Okay, it’s only March. What’s a bit scary is to think that the Gulf may not be up to snuff till as late as May. Click on this image of the Climate Prediction Center”s ENSO sea surface temperature anomaly forecast, updated March 1, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. The first two tables are the ones you want to pay attention to. That blue in the Gulf of Mexico doesn’t look too promising.

I hope I’m wrong, and it could be that I am. A quick glance at water temperatures west of the Florida peninsula shows some temps into the seventies well out into the Gulf, so maybe things will pick up more quickly than the map suggests. The ENSO update does indicate that El Nino is weakening:

•A majority of the models indicate that the Niño-3.4 temperature departures will gradually decrease at least into the summer.

•The models are split with the majority indicating ENSO-neutral conditions by May-July 2010 and persisting into the Fall. Several models also suggest the potential of continued El Niño conditions or the development of La Niña conditions during the Fall.

–Page 27, March 1, 2010, CPC-NCEP ENSO Update

That’s a good sign, kind of. The last part leaves us hanging, but as always, time will tell.

More immediately, I wonder, as I did three months ago, whether we won’t see a delayed storm season. I think, I hope, that when it does finally arrive, it will be a stellar one.  There’s reason to be hopeful, considering the ample ground moisture available for evapotranspiration throughout Tornado Alley, including areas that languished last year under a severe drought. No such problem this year. I hear some chasers talking about West Texas, and I’ll bet they’re right. Once the Gulf finally does set up shop, whether sooner or later, I expect to be making some trips out west. See y’all at the edge of the meso.