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El Nino doesn't guarantee a 'brown Christmas' in Sask., meteorologist says

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With the weather phenomenon known as El Nino expected to impact much of western Canada this winter, including Saskatchewan, one meteorologist wants people to know it doesn’t mean no snow and above-zero temperatures will be the everyday norm.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) meteorologist Terri Lang says people in Saskatchewan should still expect to see winter conditions this year.

"It’s still [going to be] winter in Saskatchewan," Lang said.

"I think with El Nino everybody remembers back to 1997-98 when it was one of the strongest El Ninos on record and it was above zero and a brown Christmas and expect that every time," Lang said.

Lang said El Nino simply means that at the end of meteorological winter, on average, temperatures will have been above seasonal with less precipitation. She emphasized it doesn’t always mean an extremely warm winter with no snow.

Lang said the last recorded El Nino was in 2015-16 and is more than likely what this coming winter could be like.

"So it doesn’t mean it’s not going to snow or get cold,” she said. “It just means on average when you add the numbers up at the end of winter it usually tends to be warmer with less precipitation."

The El Nino phenomenon occurs when there is an unusual warming of surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean during winter months.

According to Lang, that will usually result in the jet stream being displaced further north than normal across western portions of North America, meaning warmer air and less precipitation for those south of the jet stream.

"So if that jet stream is displaced further north that means the storms are going to the north and not through parts of western Canada. So in general that means El Nino winters tend to bring us warmer than average temperatures and driver than average conditions,” she said.

Lang said she’s been asked numerous times recently about a "brown Christmas" for Saskatchewan this year and reiterated there are no guarantees of that, El Nino or not.

According to ECCC's forecast for Regina on Friday afternoon, temperatures are expected to hover at or slightly above or below zero by mid next week.

The normal daytime high for Regina on Dec. 2 is -5.2 C, according to ECCC.   

Lang said in much of western Canada the past three winters have seen the opposite phenomenon occur known as La Nina.

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