When scientists declared in March 2015 that El Niño conditions had developed in the Pacific Ocean, the consensus was that the event was too weak and too late to have much effect on North America. But in the past several months, warm water has been sloshing from the western Pacific toward the Americas and El Niño has strengthened. Surface waters have grown significantly warmer in the central and eastern Pacific, and conditions have become somewhat cooler and drier in the west. By the end of July 2015, scientists at NASA and other agencies started to see some similarities between current conditions and the development of the potent El Niño event of 1997–98.
“We have not seen a signal like this in the tropical Pacific since 1997,” said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It’s no sure bet that we will have a strong El Niño, but the signal is getting stronger. What happens in August through October should make or break this event.”