El Ni

Emily Banks

From 80-degree days in October, a Thanksgiving in the 50s and thunderstorms Tuesday morning, this fall hardly resembles typical Minnesota weather.

And, heading into December, Minnesota will likely feel the effects of El Niño’s milder-than-usual weather.

Chemical physics graduate student Loren Kaake took advantage of the weather Tuesday to toss a baseball on Northrop Mall.

“It’s been consistently nicer than most falls in the past few years,” he said.

Since 1997, the area has felt abnormally warmer winters, said Mark Seeley, a soil, water and climate professor.

“That’s just a very significant trend that we’ve seen that might have something to do with climate change as well as El Niño,” Seeley said.

El Niño occurs when the equatorial waters in the Pacific Ocean have a higher than normal surface temperature and bring warmer air across the continent.

So far, the ocean temperatures are warmer by only a couple degrees, classifying this El Niño as relatively weak.

But that slight difference still favors warmer temperatures from December through February.

If the current trend lasts, the season will likely be considered an El Niño event, said Steve Buan, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service.

“There’s reasonable confidence that this weak to moderate El Niño episode will live long enough to be considered a full-fledged event through the winter months in the Northern Hemisphere,” he said.

Whether El Niño or general climate changes caused this fall’s abnormally warm weather, December will likely feel the effects of El Niño.

“I think we’re turning into it here,” Buan said. “This is the beginning of our winter season.”

With three weeks until the official beginning of winter, the area will likely have warmer than average temperatures with each coming month, Buan said.

Temperatures 4 to 6 degrees warmer than usual can mean fewer layers of clothing for the walk to class and less strain on the heating bill.

“When we have warmer than normal winters, the direct benefit is on our pocketbooks,” Seeley said.

However, the rising cost of energy may offset the effects of a mild winter, he said.

Seeley also said people shouldn’t assume that El Niño bars any possibility of arctic temperatures or snow storms.

“It’s a broad-scale look at the general temperature conditions,” he said. “I fully expect we’ll have plenty of episodes of arctic air and heavy snow, or even a blizzard.”

But until then, Seeley said he’ll continue to take advantage of the warmer weather by biking the one mile commute to work.

He said during eight of the last nine winters he’s been able to bike into December, whereas back in the 1970s and ’80s he had to stow the bike by November.

“Maybe I’ve become emboldened in my old age, but until the snow lays down a permanent blanket, when I have to avoid the threat of cars, I’ll keep biking,” Seeley said.