Drought-ravaged regions of Texas that have been dealing with dry conditions for the past few years may finally have reason to rejoice. National Weather Service forecasters are predicting an El Nino pattern to begin forming this year, which could bring the increased moisture necessary to quell the drought conditions. El Nino happens every few years when water in the Pacific Ocean is unusually warm. "A warmer Pacific means more rain for the western United States," says Frank Billingsley, meteorologist from KPRC Local 2. "That's one of the big pluses for it." That increased precipitation not only falls as direct rain on drought-stricken areas, but also means heavier snow packs in the mountains, resulting in more runoff to rivers and streams.
Billingsley tells KTRH that this year's models are pretty reliable for a normal to "reasonably strong" El Nino. He predicts it will arrive in late summer or early fall, but exactly where it will have the biggest impact remains to be seen. "What it means is more moist air moving our way. Where that moist air actually drops its rain is still a guess," says Billingsley. The regions most hoping to get some of that moisture are in West and South Texas, where the drought has hampered agriculture and water supplies. However, Billingsley says the El Nino will benefit all of Texas. "More moisture not only translates to better rainfall for the drought-stricken areas, but it also means more cloud cover, a little higher humidity, but less heat for us (in Houston.")
Not only will the El Nino mean a slightly cooler summer for Houston, but it will also reduce the chance of hurricanes. "El Ninos also develop a wind that knocks off the tops of developing hurricanes," says Billingsley. While it's still too soon to know exactly when the El Nino will arrive and what specific effect it will have, the phenomenon should come as a welcome sign for most Texans. "It will bring rain to drought-stricken areas, it will help the wildfire situation out west and into Texas tremendously, it will give us a cooler summer, bring more rain for Houston, and will inhibit the hurricane season," says Billingsley. "So all in all, El Nino is El Amigo."