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El Niño expected to arrive by year's end

More than six months after issuing an El Niño watch, forecasters say they still expect the climate pattern to set in by the end of this year.

The National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center in College Park issued an El Niño discussion Thursday that maintains the watch and suggests the wait could be over in a month or two. Forecasters predict a two-in-three chance of El Niño between November and January, and they expect it to continue into the spring.

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A coming El Niño appeared more certain earlier this year, after the center issued a watch for it in March. In May, chances of El Niño arriving by this fall were up to 80 percent.

Meteorologists watch for warming Pacific Ocean surface temperatures and shifting wind patterns to detect the climate phenomenon, which is often associated with snowy winters in Maryland. Those changes can have global climate impacts including droughts and wildfires for parts of Southeast Asia and Oceania, winter flooding and mudslides for Peru and Ecuador, and wetter-than-normal weather along the southern U.S.

When El Niño conditions are present, average snowfall in Baltimore is as much as 10 inches above the 18-20 inches in an average winter according to the National Weather Service. But El Niño is not a guarantee of a snowy winter here.

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"Neutral" conditions have endured since March 2012, the longest stretch with neither El Niño or La Niña since a period from 1992-1995.

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