HONOLULU (KHON2) — Forecasters are closely monitoring Pacific Ocean temperatures to see if El Niño or neutral conditions will prevail heading into the summer.

Prior to last week, La Niña conditions prevailed since 2020 worldwide, bringing cooler water temperatures, fewer hurricanes, and windy conditions to Hawaii.

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El Niño conditions tend to bring stronger storms, more hurricane activity, high surf, and warmer weather to Hawaii.

Forecasters said it’s still too early to know if the world is moving into an El Niño or neutral weather pattern, however, the climate prediction center said it’s likely El Niño could form by late summer and fall.

The National Weather Service in Honolulu said they should know for sure if El Niño conditions will take over by May.

But it’s never too early to start preparing for hurricane season, which starts June 1 and goes through Nov. 30.

In Hawaii, El Niño can weaken Hawaii’s typical east trade wind pattern, which results in drier weather and less wind shear.

“With the changing of the weather patterns, you end up with weaker than normal vertical wind shear as opposed to La Niña conditions, you have a stronger wind shear, which is detrimental to tropical cyclone development,” explained NWS Honolulu Hydrologist Kevin Kodama.

Some of the most notable hurricanes to impact Hawaii were during strong El Niño years including:

  • 1957-1958 Nina, which brought 84 mph wind gusts to Honolulu
  • 1972-1973 Diana which brought heavy rain to Big Island
  • 1982-1983 Iwa which caused severe damage to Kauai
  • 1991-1992 Iniki which is still the costliest, deadliest, and strongest hurricane to hit Hawaii, and caused extensive damage to Kauai

The tropical storm 2015-2016 Darby brought minimal damage to Hawaii during one of the most active hurricane seasons on record.

Kodama noted that even though more storms form in the Pacific during El Niño doesn’t necessarily mean a hurricane will impact the state.

“The main thing is that we don’t focus in on the numbers, so even if we have a quiet season, all it takes is one and if it hits us, then of course, the impacts are going to be severe,” Kodama said.  “But, for instance, in 2015-2016 we had a record number of tropical cyclones, and none of them hit [Hawaii] directly.”

El Niño conditions also tend to bring drought conditions later in the season as temperatures warm up. It also brings in big, consistent surf.

“During the wintertime of El Niño, it’s just one of the tendencies is to have more active surf, especially giant surf conditions,” Kodama said.

Although there’s still a chance of a neutral Fall and Winter, the climate prediction center won’t know for certain until May or June.

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“Really, the message that we try to emphasize is preparation for all occurrences in any hurricane season,” Kodama said. “Whether we’re calling for a lower-than-normal activity or more activity than usual, you know, we emphasize preparedness.”