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Will Christmas be white or just really wet? And what's El Niño anyway? A meteorologist weighs in

Rain and downed limbs knock out power and snarl morning traffic near Abigail's Grille & Wine Bar at the crossroads of Hopmeadow St and Hartford Rd in Simsbury, Connecticut December 18, 2023.
Joe Amon
/
Connecticut Public
Rain and downed limbs knock out power and snarl morning traffic near Abigail's Grille & Wine Bar at the crossroads of Hopmeadow St and Hartford Rd in Simsbury, Connecticut December 18, 2023.

It's been a wild year for weather in Connecticut. Late spring frosts dealt massive damage to crops, and torrential rain this summer caused widespread flooding in fields and homes across the state.

The heavy rainfall continues. Just this week, more rain fell on Connecticut, dumping inches of water into already saturated ground. Gusty winds toppled trees and left thousands of residents without power.

Connecticut Public Meteorologist Garett Argianas recently discussed some of the wild 2023 weather, and gave his forecast for what we can expect in early 2024.

Is El Niño to blame for this year's flooding?

Connecticut endured a number of harsh weather events this year, including a frost in May that destroyed crops all over New England. Then heavy rains in July did even more crop damage.

The wet weather is due to a variety of possible causes, Argianas said, including climate change and El Niño, which causes a warming of sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. El Niño tends to bring warmer and wetter conditions to Connecticut.

“El Niño is relatively recent, so that was not really an impact earlier in the year,” Argianas said. “The frost in May, it was just really an unfortunate circumstance of just late cold. The issue over the summer with the rain … that is an area where climate change does come into play, because with climate change we're seeing more heavy precipitation events.” 

Will Christmas (and ski slopes) be white … or wet? 

Connecticut hasn’t seen above average snowfall since 2018. “With the El Niño now settling in, we're likely to see more precipitation over the winter than normal,” Argianas said. “But that does not necessarily mean more snow. With warmer temperatures, that could mean more rain or even mixed precipitation." 

That could mean less natural snow for Connecticut’s ski slopes. “That's one thing when we talk about climate change,” Argianas said. “We talk about warmer winters in general. There's still enough cold air, generally, that snow can be made with cold temperatures.” 

Are short-term or long-term forecasts more accurate? 

Be it a forecast of conditions the next day or in the next year, every weather forecast begs the question “can we trust it?” How far can any meteorologist look into the future and make forecasts with any degree of certainty?

“When we talk about weather, and that's kind of the day-to-day thing, we're gonna look at it on a maybe two-to-four-day time frame,” Argianas said. “In some cases, a couple of days out, we can be super precise with the forecast.”

Longer term forecasts are precise too, but in a different way, he said. “When you look out 30, 60 or 90 days out, you're looking more at averages,” Argianas said. “You might get 50 inches of snow. And that 50 inches could be an inch a day for 50 days. Or, it could be two giant two-foot storms. And so, when you average it out, it comes out to a certain number.”

John Henry Smith is Connecticut Public’s host of All Things Considered, its flagship afternoon news program. He's proud to be a part of the team that won a regional Emmy Award for The Vote: A Connecticut Conversation. In his 21st year as a professional broadcaster, he’s covered both news and sports.