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El Niño is a lesser force in the Northeast, climatologists say

These false-color images provided by NASA satellites compare

These false-color images provided by NASA satellites compare warm Pacific Ocean water temperatures from the strong El Nino that brought North America large amounts of rainfall in 1997, left, and the current El Nino as of Aug. 5, 2015, right. Warmer ocean water that normally stays in the western Pacific, shown as lighter orange, red and white areas, moves east along the equator toward the Americas. Credit: AP / NASA

Lots of eyes are turned to what's been called "Godzilla El Niño" -- no, not a scary-creature film, but a climate pattern that "tilts the odds" for varying weather impacts worldwide, according to a blog.

Long Islanders can take some comfort in knowing that the relationship between an El Niño -- even this year's possible powerhouse -- and upcoming winter weather in the Northeast isn't as strong as it is in other regions, an area climatologist says. Still, that doesn't mean the Island is necessarily off the hook for a possible cold and snowy winter.

Following is an El Niño primer:

What is it anyway?

El Niño, the warm phase in a complicated climate cycle, involves warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the east and central tropical Pacific, which, in turn, can contribute to shifts in weather patterns worldwide. Think temperature. Think precipitation. El Niño comes along at irregular intervals of two to seven years, the Climate Prediction Center says, and can last as long as 12 to 18 months.

How about the one developing this year?

It could well be among the strongest since records started being kept in the 1950s, said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the prediction center. Chances could be increased for heavy rain in the West, including over drought-ridden California, forecasters say. Of course, that could also mean widespread flooding and mudslides. That's a lot of "coulds." Halpert says that, even with an appreciation for typical relations between El Nino and weather impacts, things are "far more complicated than just El Nino," with potential for other elements coming into play.

What's the timing?

Temperature and precipitation impacts in the United States "are expected to remain minimal" through the rest of the summer, but picking up into the late fall and winter, the prediction center says. The one "notable impact" so far has been on Atlantic hurricane season, Halpert said, which is predicted to be far quieter than normal as to the number of storms. (If a major one does develop, give it due respect.)

Why talk about this now?

We get "a big picture of what the upcoming seasons might look like, especially in areas where there's a strong relationship between El Niño and weather patterns," said Samantha Borisoff, climatologist with the Northeast Regional Climate Center, based at Cornell University. She points to the southern part of the United States where residents might want to start preparing for potentially cooler and wetter conditions. "However, even in areas with those strong relationships, weather can vary from place to place," she said.

How about the Northeast?

As far as El Niño goes, the correlation between it and the Northeast's weather patterns isn't as strong as in other regions, Borisoff said. Weather here is also influenced by such factors as the atmosphere's North Atlantic Oscillation -- and aren't you glad you asked -- a two-phase climate pattern that can either lead to frigid cold and storms being steered down over the Northeast or the exact opposite.

How about this winter?

The prediction center is indicating favorable conditions for above normal East Coast precipitation, but mind Halpert's caution of "just because something is favorable doesn't guarantee it would happen." If it does happen, though, the next question would be -- rain or snow? Which depends a good deal on temperature. We'll have to stay tuned for that call, as the center, at this stage, he said, is "not tilting the odds" toward above, below or right at normal temperatures.

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