An El Nino winter has consequences

A Tufted Titmouse comes for a late lunch after the blizzard. (Lisa Strobel / McClatchy)
A Tufted Titmouse comes for a late lunch after the blizzard. (Lisa Strobel / McClatchy) Lisa Strobel / McClatchy

Washington, D.C., was all but shut down by some 3 feet of snow this month. Records are being shattered in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania. What's going on?

It can be hard to tie individual weather events to any single factor, experts say. But El Nino, a natural climatic variation, is at least part of the answer.

El Nino is a disruption of the atmosphere created by warm waters in the tropical Pacific. These warm currents, thousands of miles south, may be contributing to Vancouver's shortage of snow for the Olympics and the packed slopes on Colorado mountain ranges.

Closer to home, utilities that depend on river flows to produce electricity are scaling back their revenue forecasts for the year. Farmers are preparing for less water for crops, and Idaho salmon may suffer.

"The weather pattern this year is typical during El Nino years - with good snow levels in the Southwest U.S. and below normal levels in the Pacific Northwest," said Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Boise.

Idaho's snowpack ranges from fair to poor right now with northern Idaho the driest. The Boise Basin stands at about 83 percent of normal thanks in part to heavier-than-normal precipitation in January.

But in eastern Idaho, home of the reservoirs that supply water for much of southern Idaho, the snowpack stands as the sixth lowest in 50 years - about 60 percent of average.

"The good news is that the reservoir storage is above average across most of the state and that will help buffer impacts of the below-normal streamflows," Abramovich said.

Read the complete story at