A strong El Niño is expected this winter, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NOAA issued the U.S. Winter Outlook in October that predicted wetter-than-average conditions and below-normal temperatures in the South. That means an El Niño winter is expected to come to coastal Georgia.
El Niño occurs when the surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean rises for six to 12 months or longer. A strong El Niño is expected this winter, according to NOAA.
Frank Alfheimer, science and operations officer at the National Weather Service office in Charleston, South Carolina, said, “It’s been very warm so far in the month of December, and past El Niños have shown that it can be warm and then transition to cooler conditions later in the winter. January is sort of the transition month, and then February to March tend to be cooler and wetter than normal and stormier than normal.”
Liberty County Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Hodges said weather officials have been using the term “historic cold” to describe the upcoming late winter. He is concerned that coupled with a “historic cold” will be wet conditions, which can lead to ice storms.
Alfheimer said that during the colder months, days tend to be cloudier, causing the temperatures to be lower. Then at night, the temperature should be normal. Alfheimer thinks the odds for ice in the coastal region are low, but he said the possibility of a quick ice storm in February, as the temperature becomes colder, can’t be ruled out.
“If we get a storm like that, it shouldn’t last long and the temperatures should rebound fairly quickly,” Alfheimer said.
Winter temperatures are predicted to change because of the long duration of El Niño.
“Now we’ve had wintertime temperature changes, but I think this time it’s going to be different than others we had,” Hodges said. “There’s enough data out there right now that makes me a believer that what we have coming will be different. The fact that it’s mid-December and 80 degrees tends to make us think, ‘Wow, we’re going to have mild winter, no big deal,’ and (local residents) put off making preparations.”
Hodges said he wants residents to pay attention to weather conditions after January, as the temperature drops.
“A lot of data has gone into this. We really think it’s going to change the temperature, and we don’t do well here with ice,” he said. “That’s our biggest thing, when you have school buses, people who simply don’t travel in ice, that creates many problems.”
He added that people need to consider their power bills may go up as temperatures go down.
“Be open-minded enough to see that things are changing and we are seeing some things that are different,” he said. “So when they say that this cold weather is coming, I believe that. Don’t say, ‘I believe it when I see it.’”
Alfheimer recommends completing any yardwork within the next six weeks because it is expected for coastal Georgia to have more rain than normal from February to April.
He advised that people review their severe-weather plans and family emergency plans.