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El Niño Brings May Showers, But Will It Bring Drought Relief?

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Dean Terry/flickr
Austin’s received 8.97 inches through May 17, compared to 7.09 inches of rainfall in the entire month of May last year.";

For the past year, forecasters have been watching the Pacific Ocean with bated breath, waiting for the weather pattern known as El Niño to arrive.

Well, it’s here, but it’s not like anything we’ve seen before.

When you hear or read reports about the oft-elusive weather system, you can’t help but think of Chris Farley’s classic skit from “Saturday Night Live.”

What other weather pattern gets its own Saturday Night Live send-up?

For the record, El Niño’s not really a storm. It just brings storms, and that’s what it’s been doing this month — a lot.

Texas State Climatologist John Neilsen Gammon says the weather system’s name doesn’t stand for “the Niño” as Farley put it in his sketch. Its roots go back to Peru.

“El Niño was named after the Christ child, because it was first observed by Peruvian fisherman around Christmastime, and the water temperatures would warm up and it would have big impacts on rain,” he says.

That’s what makes this year so strange. Christmas is long gone, but El Niño is still raging like Chris Farley.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologist Victor Murphy says Austin’s received 8.97 inches through May 17, compared to 7.09 inches of rainfall in the entire month of May last year.

He says the rains will likely continue through the end of the month — he expects anywhere from two to four inches at least by the end of this week — which could break the record for the wettest May on record in Austin, 14.10 inches in 1895.

Neilsen Gammon says the unseasonable system doesn’t have a definite finish line.

“I don’t have a good feel for when we’ll stop getting a big influence,” he says. “Because really this sort of situation hasn’t really happened a whole lot in history.”

He says, with luck, we could get a repeat of 1957, the year when heavy rains in both spring and fall ended the great Texas drought of the 1950s.