The National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center on Thursday placed the globe on El Niño watch, with a 50 percent chance of the global climate pattern developing by summer or fall.
El Nino is characterized by above-average Pacific Ocean surface temperatures along the equator, just west of South America. It can cause climate patterns that contribute to extreme weather around the world, with some areas prone to drought or others to flooding, for example.
In Maryland and the Northeast, El Niño is perhaps best known for bringing snowy winters -- though that's not required, as this snowy winter occurred under what are considered "neutral" conditions, with neither El Niño or La Niña present.
Models suggest neutral conditions will continue at least through the spring, but that El Niño could arrive during the summer or fall.