An El Niño winter is coming. What will winter 2023 look like in Utah and the rest of the U.S.?

Snow falls around Mill Creek at Mill Creek Canyon in Salt Lake City on April 3, 2023. What will the winter ahead be like?
Snow falls around Mill Creek at Mill Creek Canyon in Salt Lake City on April 3, 2023. What will the winter ahead be like? | Ryan Sun, Deseret News

After last year’s historic winter season in Utah, it's not too early to begin thinking about what’s coming this winter.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts an El Niño weather pattern for the winter 2023-2024 season, which will change things up from the past three years of La Niña.


What is El Niño?

El Niño is a weather pattern that has to do with the westward-bound tradewinds in the Pacific Ocean weakening and pushing warm water against the western side of the Americas, per the National Ocean Service. When the opposite occurs, it’s called La Niña.

“Depending on its strength, El Nino can cause a range of impacts, such as increasing the risk of heavy rainfall and droughts in certain locations around the world,” said Michelle L’Heureux, who is a climate scientist at the Climate Prediction Center, per the National Weather Service.

“Climate change,” she said, “can exacerbate or mitigate certain impacts related to El Nino,” including breaking temperature records.

El Niño’s original name was “El Niño de la Navidad,” or “the little boy of Christmas,” because of its affinity to hitting around the Christmas season when winter begins, according to NOAA.

Is 2023 La Niña or El Niño?

While the past three winters were La Niña, according to Severe Weather Europe, the winter of 2023 is forecasted by NOAA to be an El Niño year. The weather pattern is anticipated to last until early spring.

This year’s expected El Niño has been in the works since at least June, when NOAA first reported on the build-up of El Niño making hurricanes in the central and eastern Pacific basins more likely.


What is the prediction for El Niño 2023?

An early September update from the Climate Prediction Center put the chance of the weather pattern continuing into March 2024 at 95%.

“However,” the center said in the update, “a strong El Niño does not necessarily equate to strong impacts locally, with the odds of related climate anomalies often lower than the chances of El Niño itself.”

What does El Niño weather mean?

In the past, previous El Niño patterns have caused more precipitation and colder temperatures than usual in California and along the southern part of the United States, while the north stays drier and warmer than usual, reported CNN.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac describes these colder temperatures for the south as “mild” and “wet.”

NOAA’s 2023 to 2024 seasonal outlook predicts that most of Idaho, Montana and Michigan will be drier than normal, while most of Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Georgia will be wetter.

What will El Niño mean for Utah?

For Utah, the season outlook predicts that the northwest portion of the state has a smaller chance — 33% to 44% — of a warmer winter than normal, with a normal prediction for precipitation and temperatures throughout the state.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts a snowy “winter wonderland” in Utah.

KSL Meteorologist Brett Benson said there are no guarantees that previous El Niño will bring Utah a large amount of snowfall. He said that the weather pattern has brought both large amounts of snowfall and really dry winters in the past.