While you can't make an assumption about our weather this week being a "preview" of the entire summer in Montana, it's looking like the arrival of a major weather maker may in fact bring us a summer of hotter, drier weather.

That weather maker is El Niño and climatologists are saying they're seeing the first strong indication that the rise in sea surface temperatures in the Eastern Pacific could mean not only a hotter summer but a warmer and drier winter at the end of the year.

This week's unusual string of temps reaching 90 to start May does serve as a good reminder of how quickly the heat can develop.

The big shift

For nearly 3-years now, the Pacific Northwest, which includes the Northern Rockies, has been under a La Nina weather pattern. The colder ocean temperatures on the Equator traditionally mean wetter, and colder winters for us. And certainly, we've seen evidence of that playing out. Just think of the start to summer last year, or all the snow and cold this past winter.

But now, the World Meteorological Organization is issuing an El Niño watch, saying the El Niño-Southern Oscillation is spinning up, and ocean temperatures could start rising significantly as soon as this month. And the outlook for the Northwest could spell some problems.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is issuing a forecast showing temperatures from the coast into Northern Idaho and Western Montana is likely to be above normal. The rest of Montana has an "equal chance" of being above or below normal, so basically typical temperatures.

NOAA graphic
NOAA graphic

But the lack of rain could be worse

The more problematic forecast is for precipitation, with an area of "below normal" rain for a zone extending from Northeast Washington, across the Idaho Panhandle through Northwest and West Central Montana, and east to the Rocky Mountain Front and North Central Montana.

That might be good news for people anxious to enjoy the outdoors after a long Montana winter. But it's going to be concerning for firefighters since that forecast would be for the first part of the fire season when we often can count on moisture to reduce the risk of wildfires in August and September.

And the scientists say it's far too early to know how the El Niño could play out. But traditionally, such conditions will be even more noticeable next winter, with warmer temperatures, but also less snow for our mountains.

Stay tuned and get your A/C fixed. 

READ MORE: Remember when we hit -30 this winter?

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