This year's El Niño could be the worst ever recorded

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - It could be a record setting winter in Chicago, but in a completely different way than the brutal cold of last February.

We haven't seen anything like this in nearly 20 years. This year's El Nino may turn out to be the strongest ever, and that could change the way you prepare for winter in the Chicago area.

“At this point El Nino is pretty much a lock. It’s already at record levels as to how strong the El Nino is now,” said Gino Izzy.

Izzy is the senior meteorologist with the National WX Service in Chicago.

“They tend to peak in November and December, so at this point we are looking at a pretty strong case for a strong El Nino throughout the winter,” he said.

An EL Nino is a band of very warm ocean water that moves east across the Pacific. This year’s El Nino just recorded the highest water temperature of any El Nino, ever.

Just to put that into perspective: the energy contained in just the top 6 feet of water could power the entire United States for a year. Put all that energy in the atmosphere and you get the ferocious storms that caused this massive flooding and wide spread damage in California during the 1997-98 El Nino. 

Here’s what happens: El Nino causes the jet stream to split and you get a cold wet flow that moves across the southern half of the US. That blocks the cold air from Canada, keeping the northern states unusually warm and dry.

In Chicago in 1997-98 during the El Nino, there was no ice on the lake, people were walking around without coats, dogs played in fountains and even the ice rinks were closed.

That year, in fact, not a flake of snow fell the entire month of February and it was warm enough to hit the driving range in just a golf shirt.

“We had only 13 days where temps dropped below freezing, normal highs are in the 30's, so to have only 13 days that dropped below freezing is pretty incredible,” izzy said.

While no two El Ninos are exactly the same, you can see how this year's El Nino stacks up to the one in 97-98, only with more warm water.

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