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HOME > El Niño/La Niña > The ENSO Cycle > North American Winter Features
North American Winter Conditions
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General: During winter El Niņo episodes (top map) feature a strong jet stream and storm track across the southern part of the United States, and less storminess and milder-than-average conditions across the North. La Niņa episodes (bottom map) feature a very wave-like jet stream flow over the United States and Canada, with colder and stormier than average conditions across the North, and warmer and less stormy conditions across the South.


Detailed El Nino: El Niņo episodes are associated with four prominent changes in the wintertime atmospheric flow across the eastern North Pacific and North America. The first is an eastward extension and equatorward shift of the East Asian jet stream from the International Date Line to the southwestern United States. The second is a more west-to-east flow of jet stream winds than normal across the United States. The third is a southward shift of the storm track from the northern to the southern part of the United States. The fourth is a southward and eastward shift of the main region of cyclone formation to just west of California. This shift results in an exceptionally stormy winter and increased precipitation across California and the southern U.S, and less stormy conditions across the northern part of the country. Also, there is an enhanced flow of marine air into western North America, along with a reduced northerly flow of cold air from Canada to the United States. These conditions result in a milder than normal winter across the northern states and western Canada.


Detailed La Nina: La Niņa episodes are associated with three prominent changes in the wintertime atmospheric flow across the eastern North Pacific and North America. The first is an amplification of the climatological mean wave pattern and increased meridional flow across the continent and the eastern North Pacific. The second is increased blocking activity over the high latitudes of the eastern North Pacific. The third is a highly variable strength of the jet stream over the eastern North Pacific, with the mean jet position entering North America in the northwestern United States/ southwestern Canada. Accompanying these conditions, large portions of central North America experience increased storminess, increased precipitation, and an increased frequency of significant cold-air outbreaks, while the southern states experiences less storminess and precipitation.

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