La Niña to Neutral: What Texas can expect from the shift in climate

La Niña to Neutral: What Texas can expect from the shift in climate

More rain may be on the horizon. 

There is a change coming in the weather, from a pattern called La Niña to a neutral pattern in the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), according to the Climate Prediction Center. This change could happen sometime between February and April. 

What does this mean?

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the movement of trade winds over the Pacific Ocean results in different weather patterns known as El Niño, La Niña or neutral conditions.

Different types of El Niño and La Niña weather can occur, but scientists have noticed that El Niño usually means more rain and cooler weather, while La Niña usually means hotter and drier than normal conditions for the southern tier of the United States. Texas has experienced a La Niña pattern since September 2020. 

ENSO is a neutral climate process that can change the world's weather patterns and temperatures. Most importantly, the ENSO conditions expected to arrive over the next few months could put an end to the below-normal rainfall the Brazos River basin has experienced dating back to Fall 2021. 

And there may be a more dramatic change on the horizon. According to forecasters, there's a chance the neutral weather pattern could change to El Niño during the summer.

The predicted shift to El Niño conditions means that Texas could experience more moisture and rainfall, according to Dr. Mark Wentzel, a hydrologist at the Texas Water Development Board.

"The months of April, May, and June historically bring a lot of rainfall to our state," Wentzel said. "And they're very important for us in terms of avoiding drought. If we can get some normal to above-normal rainfall during those months, that can help us stay out of drought during the coming summer months."

Rain would be welcome company. 

It was a hot one last year. 2022 was the sixth-warmest year on record since 1880, according to an analysis by scientists from NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information. The 10-warmest years on record have all occurred since 2010, with the last nine years (2014-2022) among the 10 warmest. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists conducted a separate but similar analysis, determining that 2022 ranked as Earth's fifth-warmest year on record, tied with 2015.

Lately, there has been less drought in the Brazos River basin. Drought conditions in the Brazos River basin decreased from 91% to 89% over the past week, according to drought data released last Thursday from the U.S. Drought Monitor, a joint effort of the National Drought Mitigation Center, the U.S. Agriculture Department and NOAA. The basin has not seen drought percentages in the '80s since Feb. 7, 2022. Recent rains in the lower part of the basin also have increased the Brazos River Authority's Water Supply System to 74%.

The transition from La Niña to neutral ENSO conditions in Texas could bring more moisture to the state, which is crucial in avoiding the continued drought.