In what is arguably one of the most dramatic phenomena possibly associated with climate change or natural climate variability, the location of El Niño has shifted more to the central Pacific in recent decades. In this study, we use statistical analyses, numerical model experiments and case studies to show that the Central-Pacific El Niño enhances the drying effect, but weakens the wetting effect, typically produced by traditional Eastern-Pacific El Niño events on the US winter precipitation. As a result, the emerging Central-Pacific El Niño produces an overall drying effect on the US winter, particularly over the Ohio–Mississippi Valley, Pacific Northwest and Southeast. The enhanced drying effect is related to a more southward displacement of tropospheric jet streams that control the movements of winter storms. The results of this study imply that the emergence of the Central-Pacific El Niño in recent decades may be one factor contributing to the recent prevalence of extended droughts in the US.