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So soon? La Niña hits the road, could El Niño be set to return?

SEATTLE -- La Niña, we hardly knew ye...

NOAA says ocean temperatures in the Central Pacific Ocean officially warmed to where they sit just less then 0.5 degrees below normal -- the baseline to be considered La Niña conditions. We've officially gone neutral!

Snow fans will be sad to see it go as the La Niña winter has brought our first extended cold snaps and decent snowfalls in five years, as La Niña winters tend to do more often that not.

According to Emily Becker with NOAA's Climate.gov, unlike the super Godzilla El Niño last winter that was among the Top 3 on record, this La Niña didn't exactly make any historical waves. It peaked at -0.8C making it a very weak La Niña.

So, what's next?

It looks like we'll remain in neutral conditions into spring and summer -- usually La Niña/El Niño phases fade in the spring anyway. But what lies ahead for next fall and winter? It looks like it's a toss up between staying neutral and heading back to El Niño again.

When broken down by probabilities, climate oddsmakers give El Niño about a 46-48% chance of returning, with a roughly 40-42% chance of staying neutral and a puncher's chance of going back to La Niña.

To recap: El Niño usually means mild winters, La Niñas (as we just saw) are cooler and wetter (well, we had the "cool" part down) and neutral years mean break out the dartboards. (Check out how all three typically play out in the Pacific Northwest in my blog from last autumn.)

But according to NOAA's Michelle L'Heureux, it's difficult to put too much confidence in any of the three scenarios just yet, due to the "Spring Predictability Barrier" -- since spring is when the ocean usually transitions from it's El Niño/La Niña/neutral phase, it's difficult to get a good read on what the ocean will look like once it gets into summer.

"It can be tougher to predict the change into a new phase than to predict the growth, continuation, or demise of an event," L'Heureux wrote.

In other words, it's sort of like spring is a fog bank on the freeway when you're trying to see the freeway exit signs for fall and winter farther down the road. So we can tell you for sure La Niña is dead. It's a "wait and see" to what's coming next. There have been some years where La Niña has taken a "double-dip" and come back around for a second run. So far that's on the lower odds side, but don't give up hope yet skiers!

But just in case you need some "Emergency Kitten Therapy" that I usually feature in my weather blogs when the news might not be so great for skiers and snow lovers - it's too early to rise to the panic level of needing kittens, so I present this instead, courtesy of the Woodland Park Zoo:


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