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El Niño forecast to last through winter, could be strongest since 1997

El Niño is marked by warmer-than-normal temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, shown in orange and red here.
El Niño is marked by warmer-than-normal temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, shown in orange and red here. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

El Niño is almost certain to last through next winter -- potentially a harbinger of a snowy season in these parts -- and it could be the strongest bout of the global climate pattern since 1997.

The National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center in College Park predicts 90 percent odds El Niño will continue through winter, and 80 percent chances it will last into next spring, according to a report released Thursday.

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Several forecast models meanwhile predict it will become a "strong" El Niño, as measured by temperature anomalies in Pacific Ocean waters along the equator. El Niño is associated with unusually warm waters in the Pacific, which trigger a shift in weather patterns causing heavy precipitation in some parts of the world and drought in others.

It could be the most extreme El Niño since one that stretched through 1997 and 1998, reaching its peak intensity in November and December of 1997, according to climate center data.

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This El Niño began in February, the globe's first since 2010.

It could be good news for drought-stricken California, which is known to get extra precipitation during El Niño.

El Niño's effects are murky in Maryland and don't necessarily indicate any strong weather trends here. But El Niño is correlated with above-normal snowfall in the Baltimore region, according to the weather service's Baltimore/Washington forecast office.

While average snowfall in Baltimore is 18 inches each winter, during El Niño winters, average snowfall is about 27 inches.

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