Likelihood of El Niño increased to 70 to 80 percent

U.S. scientists on Thursday raised the likelihood that the global climate phenomenon El Niño will develop by summer, pegging the odds at 70 percent.

In a monthly El Niño forecast discussion, the Climate Prediction Center in College Park said that while there are some mixed signals, "forecasters remain just as confident that El Niño is likely to emerge."

The chance of El Niño developing by the fall or winter is estimated at 80 percent.

Models suggest that when it arrives, the El Niño will be of "moderate" strength, though forecasters said "significant uncertainty accompanies this prediction."

In Maryland, that designation is associated with the snowiest winters, with average seasonal snowfall of 30 inches in Baltimore, according to the National Weather Service's Baltimore/Washington forecast office. The record-setting winter of 2009-2010 came during a moderate El Niño event.

El Niño is marked by warmer-than-normal surface temperatures along the Equator in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Thursday's report noted that anomalies in ocean surface temperatures at various points in the Pacific continue to grow.

Anomalies in ocean temperatures further below the surface decreased, however, but they remain larger than normal.

El Niño is best known for snowy winters in Maryland, though that is not always the case. It is better known for wet conditions along the southern tier of the U.S. and, even more so, in northwestern South America. It can cause drought conditions in parts of Oceania and southeast Asia.

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