With unusually warm temperature readings trickling in from the Pacific Ocean, 2014 seems likely to produce an El Niño – and probably a big one. The phenomenon, which occurs when warm Pacific water drifts eastward and heats the atmosphere, tends to produce wacky weather across the West, from balmy Alaskan winters to Arizona blizzards. This year, the enormous pool of warm water in the Pacific has inspired forecasts of a disturbance to rival the 1997 and ’98 monster, which cost the U.S. an estimated $10 billion in storm damage, crop losses and diminished productivity.
Still, weather fluctuations can generate as many winners as losers. Past El Niños have nudged the jet stream – the river of air that typically conveys wet weather over Washington and Oregon – south across California, spilling precipitation on the arid Southwest and leaving the Northwest dry. Here’s what El Niño might mean for your state.