What Does El Niño Mean for Atlanta & Your Plants?

Have you heard of El Niño? El Niño is a climate pattern characterized by warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. 

The pattern is nothing new and has led to increased temps for years. Computer predictions show that it’s looming again. "There's a 62% chance that El Niño will develop during the May–July period, and more than 80% chance of El Niño by the fall," according to NOAA's Emily Becker

At ServeScape, we’re tracking this pattern, as the weather conditions it produces could impact your plants! Here are some of the potential impacts of El Niño in Atlanta and how to protect your landscape:

1. Increased rainfall

El Niño often brings above-average rainfall to the Southeast, including Atlanta, through more frequent and intense rainstorms. 

El Nino


This can result in wetter conditions, higher humidity levels, and an increased risk of flooding (all conditions that could damage your plants). Above is a map of averaged precipitation anomalies from November through January in a moderate or strong El Niño.  

2. Warmer temperatures

Crank up the heat! El Niño is predicted to contribute to warmer temperatures. While the impact on Atlanta specifically may vary, overall, the region may experience milder winters and above-average temperatures during the El Niño phase.

El Niño


The World Meteorological Organization warns people to prepare for hotter conditions, even similar to those in 2016 — the warmest year on record. 

3. Severe weather events

Rainfall isn’t the only thing that increases with this pattern. El Niño can also enhance the formation of severe weather systems, including thunderstorms and tornadoes. The Southeast, including Atlanta, may experience an increased frequency of these events during an El Niño year. 

Stay informed about weather forecasts and warnings during such periods. If you live in the metro-Atlanta area, visit First Alert Weather from AtlantaNewsFirst. Consider downloading the app. You can also tune into WSB-TV for the weather report. 

4. A shift in storm tracks

El Niño can influence the jet stream patterns, which can affect storm tracks. In some cases, El Niño may lead to a more southerly storm track, increasing the chances of winter storms and snowfall in the Southeast, including Atlanta. 

El Niño


Of course, the exact impact on snowfall is highly variable and depends on other atmospheric factors.

5. Impact on agriculture 

The increased rainfall associated with El Niño can have both positive and negative effects on agriculture. 

While it can provide much-needed water for crops, excessive rainfall, and flooding can also harm agricultural productivity and delay planting and harvesting schedules.

Keep track of El Niño & be proactive with plant care

El Niño is just one of many factors influencing weather patterns, and its impacts can vary from year to year. Local weather conditions and other atmospheric factors can also interact with El Niño, leading to further variations in the observed impacts. 

Here are some ways to protect your plants from extreme weather conditions:

  • Improve drainage: Ensure proper drainage in your garden or planting area. Excess water can lead to root rot and other water-related issues. Consider incorporating raised beds or adding organic matter such as compost to improve soil structure and drainage capacity.
  • Mulch: Apply a layer of mulch around the base of your plants. Mulch helps regulate soil moisture by reducing evaporation and preventing excessive water absorption. It also helps maintain a more stable soil temperature.
  • Water management: Monitor soil moisture levels. Avoid overwatering your plants, as excessive moisture can be harmful. Use a rain gauge to measure precipitation and adjust your watering schedule accordingly.
  • Provide shade and wind protection: Use shade cloth or construct temporary structures to shield plants from excessive sunlight or strong winds if necessary.

Monitoring weather forecasts and updates such as through WSB-TV can also provide more accurate and specific information about the current and anticipated impacts of El Niño on Atlanta and the Southeast.

Need more advice on plant care and landscape design? We recommend our On-Site Consultation. Schedule a one-hour scheduled site visit from a Landscape Architect or Designer to make your landscape dreams a reality.