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What's ahead in 2018 after record-breaking weather in 2017?

Posted at 8:16 PM, Dec 29, 2017

With the start of a New Year, the biggest question so many of us have is what will mother nature bring us this time around.

In 2017 we saw deadly hurricanes, horrifying wildfires, torrential downpours and warm temperatures in the middle of winter. 

Predicting the weather begins off the coast of South America. Michael Bell, an Associate professor of Atmospheric Science at CSU says "those temperatures have been shown to highly correlate with weather patterns around the globe."

Bell leads the team that issues the nation's hurricane forecast each year.

He says the ocean temperature off the coast of Peru is a huge factor in determining El Nino and La Nina. And once you determine that, the process of predicting the overall weather outlook can begin.

La Nina tends to bring more hurricanes in the Atlantic and dryer conditions out West.

As for an El Nino season, you'll typically find wetter weather in the Pacific, and dryer conditions in the East.

Klaus Wolter with NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory says in 2017 all signs were pointing to an El Nino hurricane season, but that quickly changed between April and June.

The colder water in the Pacific and warmer water in the Atlantic meant we needed to brace for a very active season.

"You could argue that this year's active hurricane season in the Atlantic that's a quick response to a La Nina developing," says Wolter.

With that rapid shift to a La Nina developing, that meant the western part of the country like California would experience a dry winter. Those dry conditions made for the perfect igniter for wildfires.

"Having a La Nina puts them on the map or at risk for a resumption of drought conditions. Same in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas," says Wolter.

Bell says, "it's a complex problem but we try and boil it down and make it as simple as possible. But mother nature always has a way of surprising us."

By analyzing 2017's active weather, researchers like Bell and Wolter can better predict weather into the New Year.

"We can't predict with any kind of specific accuracy which storm will hit where but we can at least with some skills say there's a higher probability of certain areas getting hit than others," says Bell.

As for 2018, their preliminary prediction is for a weak La Nina, which means a weaker hurricane season in the Atlantic, and hopefully a break from the dry conditions out West.

But Bell says, "it's important people stay prepared regardless of what type of activity we predict. You got to make sure that one storm isn't coming for you."