Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

A Strange El Niño Is Bringing Rain To Texas

When you hear about El Niño, you might remember the classic skit where Chris Farley plays “El Niño,” a pro-wrestling tropical storm.

What other weather pattern gets its own Saturday Night Live send-up?

Well, after a year of waiting, El Niño is here, and it is raging like Farley. But it’s it’s not like anything we’ve seen before. To understand why, we’ve got to clear up some misconceptions.

First off, in the sketch Farley says El Niño is a “tropical storm.” It’s not. It’s a weather pattern that brings storms. That’s what it’s been doing this month in Texas — a lot.

Secondly, the name carries a little more meaning than Farley would have you believe.

“El Niño was named after the Christ child, because it was first observed by Peruvian fisherman around Christmastime,” says Texas State Climatologist John Neilsen Gammon. “The water temperatures would warm up and it would have big impacts on rain.”

That’s what makes this El Niño a strange one. Christmas is long gone. El Niño is not.

“Usually this time of year we don’t have much effect from El Nino,” says Neilsen Gammon.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologist Victor Murphy says Austin’s received 8.97 inches through May 17, compared to 7.09 inches of rainfall in the entire month of May last year.

Chris Farley in his classic turn as "El Nino"

Screen grab from Youtube

Chris Farley in his classic turn as "El Nino"

He says the rains will likely continue through the end of the month — he expects anywhere from two to four inches at least by the end of this week — which could break the record for the wettest May on record in Austin.

Neilsen Gammon says the unseasonable system doesn’t have a definite finish line.

“I don’t have a good feel for when we’ll stop getting a big influence,” he says. “Because really this sort of situation hasn’t really happened a whole lot in history.”

He says, with luck, we could get a repeat of 1957, the year when heavy rains in both spring and fall ended the great Texas drought of the 1950s.



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