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Could El Niño Affect the Price of Your Favorite Hot Sauce?

Scott Patterson • January 9th, 2024.

Red-hot chilis may make you think of one of your favorite bands from the late 90s, but the red jalapeño, a main ingredient in some hot sauces, is struggling amidst a shortage of rain starting from early-2023 to the present.

While California received several rounds of heavy rains early in 2023, which ended a severe drought in the state, farms in southern New Mexico and northwestern Mexico have not been as fortunate. The rains that fell in California never really materialized further south and east and as we head into 2024, the much anticipated El Niño has been a bust. While many types of farmers are likely seeing an impact, the chili pepper farms in these areas have seen decreased production due to the heat and drought, leading to supply chain issues and increased price for consumers.

What is El Niño?

El Niño is a type of weather pattern that involves much warmer water than normal in the Pacific Ocean stretching East to West along the Equator from the coast of Ecuador almost to Indonesia in the western Pacific. This warm water causes the entire world’s weather patterns to change.

In North America there are two main storm tracks called jet streams, that move storms from west to east from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. The jet stream in a normal winter moves up and down like a snake or a wave, with cold air north of the jet stream and warm air to the south. There are two main jet streams, a northern jet stream that brings very cold air, snow and ice southward and a southern jet stream that brings warm, humid air, rain and thunderstorms northward.



Normal El Niño Weather Patterns

During most El Niño winters the northern jet stream remains further north than usual and the coldest air remains in northern Canada. This causes much of the US to experience warm, dry winters. In the southern US, the southern jet stream also moves further north and brings in storms off the Pacific into southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and northern Mexico. Regions that are often dry see more rain and mountain snow than a usual year.

Why is El Niño Different This Year?

The key to the wetter weather, in the US, is the warm water from off the coast of California. The southern jet stream travels over this water and it creates a seemingly endless supply of moisture that falls as rain and mountain snow. The mountain snow is critical as it melts in the spring and fills rivers and reservoirs with water for irrigation and drinking water.

This year, a rare, colder than normal area of water has formed between Hawaii and California, and over the northeastern Pacific with the warmer water usually found in this area, now further to the south and east. This has pushed the southern jet stream further south and east as well. The wet weather expected to pound the southwest has instead been bringing heavy rains to central and southern Mexico and Florida. This has left northern Mexico and the southwest high and dry and is creating severe drought in some areas, impacting the production of crops like red jalapeños.

Implications heading into Spring 2024

While it may seem bleak for the plight of the red jalapeño chili pepper and the products that depend on it, the good news is that the El Niño is just one of many drivers of weather patterns. This week the El Niño takes a backseat to other pattern influencers that have pushed freezing cold temperatures, snow and ice well south across the US and bring rain chances to northern Mexico. For a more detailed look at the Spring and Summer contact ClimateAi today.

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