PIKESVILLE – The effects of El Nino double the likelihood that the state will see a significant snowstorm of nine inches or more this winter, the National Weather Service says.
In any given year, Maryland has a one in four chance of a major snowfall. When a strong El Nino is present, that chance rises to one in two, experts say.
“Out of the most recent eight El Nino events [in Maryland], six had significant snowstorms of nine inches or more,” Barbara McNaught-Watson of the National Weather Service said during a news conference Friday.
The Maryland Emergency Management Agency held the event to address the effects of El Nino in Maryland and to explain steps being taken to prepare for the winter.
The current El Nino, the warming of ocean waters in the equatorial Pacific region, developed in March 1997 and has been the cause of several tropical storms and hurricanes on the West Coast.
Events used for the Maryland forecast date as far back as 1957-’58. Of the eight strong El Nino years examined, only two winters did not have major snowstorms — 1972 and 1973. However, in 1972, a major nor’easter, or wind from the northeast, hit Ocean City with 80 mph winds and flash flooding and left severe beach erosion.
Watson said El Nino increases the risk of nor’easters, but decreases the risk of hurricanes, severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and catastrophic flooding.
Dr. Robert Levezey of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center predicts a warmer than normal December, but says the mild weather won’t last the entire winter. “It is evident that El Nino will start the winter out warm, but it doesn’t persist,” he said.
Levezey called the overall winter, December through February, “no man’s land” — meaning the precipitation and temperature could vary.
“We can’t tilt odds for warmer/colder, wetter/dryer winter overall,” he said, but added, “the frequency of one or more snowstorms for nine inches or more has been double in an El Nino year.”
Western Maryland was the only area predicted to experience above normal precipitation.
“We’re not forecasting a bad winter…. What we’re trying to do here has been to clarify confusion of El Nino effects, to set the record straight,” Levezey said.
David McMillion, director of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, said the purpose of the news conference was not to panic Maryland residents, but to make them more aware.
“We’re not trying to make anything more than it is,” McMillion said.
Robert Gunter, director of response and recovery for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said, “If this will help focus people on `do you have enough salt’ or `do you have contractors for salt trucks,’ then we’re a long way.” He said the need for these basic things happens in every snow disaster in every state.
McMillion’s agency has worked with other state emergency response organizations, county governments and private response groups to examine preparedness plans in light of the increased risk of winter storms. “We have a system in place to respond to a worst case scenario,” McMillion said. McMillion offered an emergency number, 1-800-422-8799, for people who have questions concerning weather emergencies. Agency staff will be available during normal business hours. After hours, callers will be able to leave a name and address for more information. -30-