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UA researchers tracking El Nio

Posted at 9:38 PM, Jan 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-12 11:21:28-05
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) -- University of Arizona researchers have developed a website to keep track of El Niño.
 
Ben McMahan, a research specialist with the Climate Assessment for the Southwest, says we can expect above average precipitation in the coming months.
 
"People are pretty excited about this event, provided there's no disaster or tragedy," McMahan said. "These don't happen very often, so we learn a lot from them every time they do happen."
 
When you hear El Niño you may think of one monster storm, but McMahan says we'll likely see just a few more rainy days than normal. The last time the southwest experienced a significant El Niño event was in 1997.
 
"There haven't been enough to really know in terms of a statistical prediction what exactly will happen," McMahan said. "But if you look at the 1997, 1998 event what we saw was January was actually a really dry month in that year. It was in February and March where we saw a lot of precipitation."
 
According to the National Weather Service, Tucson gets an average of about 3.46 inches of rain from December to March. During a strong El Niño year, it could be double that. 
 
"We've been in a multi-year drought," McMahan said. "So what we hope to see is with elevated precipitation over the course of the winter, that will help bring back that deficit. But of course a few extra days of rain in the winter isn't going to solve a multi-year drought."
 
McMahan says we won't know how this El Niño ranks until April or May.